Kajaki Script to Screen #LondonSWF

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Kajaki screenwriter Tom Williams and director Paul Katis joined us to talk about writing a contemporary British war movie, the conception and writing of the idea and staying true to their concept as they brought the project to screens.

The guys had been working in the corporate sector, often working from case studies and crafting drama around real events. Though Tom had previously written Chalet Girl they had been talking about the possibility of making a first feature film together for some time. When commissioned to make a training film by the MOD the came across a young soldier celebrating his 18th birthday and preparing to deploy overseas.  Telling a story about such everyman soldiers today and the situations they find themselves in seemed like a good way to connect the events of distant warzones to regular people’s lives.

Researching stories the team settled on an incident that happened when a group of paratroopers became trapped by landmines near the Kajaki Dam in Afghanistan. The men involved had shown extraordinary courage, the story could be contained to one group of people in one location and was a different story type from the sort we’d seen from prior British war movies in the past. In fact, it had been quite some time since a film about British troops had even been made.

Early on the storytellers had to gain the trust of the men involved, presenting themselves respectfully and professionally they allowed the Paras to tell them their story. Creating a facebook research group one friend invited another and the filmmakers were able to put together the sequence of events and strategic info from first hand accounts as well as the official records some of which had been redacted as some of those men were back on active duty and their identities were being protected. Eventually they met with the parents of Cpl. Mark Wright who had lost his life in the incident and had been posthumously awarded the George Cross for bravery. The filmmakers made a big decision not to try to dramatise the truth but to tell the straight story unembellished. Slowly but surely convincing people they would do right by everyone involved.

The filmmakers set up a crowdfunding page and looked at EIS, investors, selling shares etc. to get the ball rolling on the project and made a decision to give some of the profits from the film directly to four military charities. The early finance raised allowed the project to move forward as they visited locations and sourced things like the helicopters that were central to the story. They had given themselves a deadline of being able to screen the film before the troops were pulled out of Afghanistan, and with that date announced the clock was ticking and money raised from Indiegogo proved invaluable.

Production brought it’s own additions to the story. At the time they became ready to film in Jordan it was the summer and very hot. De-romanticising the filming process and just getting on with what needed to be achieved helped. Many of the actors were from the same towns or areas as the men they were playing, so the authentic dialects and improvised way of delivering the lines brought a lot of authenticity to the dialogue. Film marketing was designed to make a quite gruelling film appealing at first glance so an audience would be enticed to come and see the story they were telling. An exclusive realease with Vue cinemas had been negotiated before shooting which imposed some limitations but also gave some benefits to the project. It later also screened at Cineworld and Odeon and there were a number of event screenings at which the soldiers involved could be present.

Looking back on the project the filmmakers think they made an arthouse version of war movie and that maybe leaning more into a genre picture structure would have translated to bigger general audiences than the cinephile audience it found but for a first feature film the project has been a journey that has clearly impacted the people who set out to make this film and it became clear to us that it enriched them as people through the telling of it.

The film’s life is far from over yet. Streaming on Netflix and available on Amazon and iTunes in the UK the film is about to release in the United States next month with a rebranded title of Kilo Two Bravo. It’s a thrilling film about brave men, not least of which are the filmmakers who fought to bring us this authentic and ultimately uplifting war story.


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