Renegade Interview: Michael De Chant, Doug Gritzmacher (Soldiers of Paint)

Soldiers of PaintSoldiers of Paint / DOUBLE SIX PRODUCTIONS
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Soldiers of Paint tells of one of the most thrilling paintball battles ever staged.

Join 4,000 participants as they re-stage D-Day, the notorious June 6 invasion of Normandy. Instead of bullets, it’s paintball; instead of the French coast, it’s Oklahoma. And, every year, it’s any man’s game, which means the Germans could win! Staged on a 700-acre battlefield owned by the grand-son of a veteran of Omaha Beach, this yearly battle of paint is fought as a tribute to all veterans. These paintball soldiers take “gung ho” to an all-time high, utilizing real tanks and airplanes for this epic fight.

Soldiers of Paint, from veteran Production Assistant Michael De Chant (Transformers, Live Free or Die Hard) and cameraman Doug Gritzmacher (Waiting for Superman), is now available on Netflix.

The 70th Anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy is on Friday June 6.

Soldiers of Paint

Soldiers of Paint / DOUBLE SIX PRODUCTIONS

How did you pitch the movie to your financers?

Michael: We started with explaining to them our success with our first short documentary “Bone Mixers”. We were quite successful with that student film – winning multiple film festival awards – and we wanted to translate that success to a feature length documentary. Though “Bone Mixers” didn’t earn us any money, we were confident that we had displayed the ability to succeed as professional filmmakers and we needed some investors to believe in us to take our art to the next level. When we found the idea for “Soldiers of Paint” we did a lot of research and discovered that there was a large paintball fan base in the U.S. and a dearth of quality, professionally produced content for these players to watch. There was a multitude of crappy YouTube videos on paintball – specifically on our subject event, Oklahoma D-Day. These video clips had hundreds of thousands of views. We also learned that the event owner produced a promo video every year at his event and the DVDs always sold out at paintball stores. So we felt that we had a solid, unique idea in a documentary about the world’s ultimate paintball battle and we also felt we had a strong built in audience who would flock to buy the movie.

Doug:  Financiers? What are those? Ha! It is extremely difficult to secure financing for a film. The reason is because when you start, you have no product to show and, in fact, you don’t know if you’ll ever have a product! Filmmaking is inherently risky and investors are risk adverse. Most investors who attach their funds to film projects do so out of love for the medium, not to get rich. We did manage to secure one investor for about 13 percent of our productions costs. The rest we made up by utilizing our connections in the industry to secure discounts, begging, borrowing from banks and credit cards, and dipping into our own pockets. We had several friends also step up with donations. While those donations were modest, they were came from people who were familiar with us, knew our track record, and so had faith in our ability to pull this off. Their support may not have been a lot in monetary terms, but it certainly was in emotional terms.

How long of a journey from script to screen has this been for you guys?

Doug: The first step in making this film was cold-calling Dewayne Convirs, the founder of Oklahoma D-Day, in May 2007 to pitch our project to him. So we’re going on seven years now working on the film, six of which were spent making and completing the film. If you had told me in 2007 it would take six years to complete, I never would have started! Naivety is a blessing and a curse. Those six years were tough but also a lot of fun.

Michael: We first started work on “Soldiers of Paint” in 2007. That was the year we first learned about Oklahoma D-Day and drove out from Washington D.C. to see it with our own eyes. We filmed some footage at the event that year to create a teaser trailer to show possible investors. In early 2008 Doug and I started travelling around the country to interview some of the people that we met at the event in 2007. For the June 2008 event we went in big – embedding 11 professional camera operators in the 8-hour battle. We came out with over 120 hours of footage and we still weren’t done. In 2009, 2010, and 2011 Doug and I returned to Oklahoma to gather pick up footage that we identified we needed while working on our rough cuts. In all we amassed nearly 160 hours of raw footage. Postproduction on the film was by far the hardest part of the process as we had a million different directions to go in. We spent a year organizing our footage alone. From there we ended up creating four different rough cuts before we reached picture lock in summer 2012. Thanks to our film story advisor, a successful documentarian herself, we made contact with the New York based distribution company, First Run Features. They watched “Soldiers of Paint” and decided they wanted to distribute the film. We released the film (North American territories) on DVD and VOD in spring 2013 and on Netflix streaming in early 2014. So it has been a very long road and the work continues with promotion and marketing.

A bit of back story: After the success of our short doc. “Bone Mixers” (this was our joint thesis project for film school) Doug and I had decided that we wanted to make a feature doc. together but only if we came up with a truly unique idea. That idea came about back in 2007 when I happened to be playing paintball at a friend’s bachelor party in Maryland. I’m not a big paintball player and didn’t know much about the sport other than finding it fun – and a touch painful… At the field that day I was talking to a teenage referee who worked there. He asked me if I was going to go to “D-Day” and I had no idea what he was talking about. When he told me it was 5,000 paintball players re-staging the battle of Normandy in Oklahoma using paintballs I was instantly intrigued.  I had a look at the website and was completely blown away by what I saw: the scope; the intensity; the tanks! The fact that we hadn’t heard of this event before AND that someone hadn’t made a movie about it yet convinced us that we might finally have found our idea. The next step was to head out to Oklahoma to see it first hand…and well, the rest is history.

Soldiers of Paint

Soldiers of Paint / DOUBLE SIX PRODUCTIONS

Most assume only teenage athlete types play Paintball.  True or False?

Michael: False. Oklahoma D-Day is a real mix of people. Men, women, children – players from age 10 up to 60 are out there braving the Oklahoma summer heat to play in this epic game. There are players that come in from all over the US – and from around the world to experience what it is like to restage the Invasion of Normandy with paintballs.  There are a lot of veterans and active duty service members who play scenario paintball – a lot of the training they received in the military conveys nicely to the paintball environment. Bottom line is that the community that we experienced as a whole was fun loving, welcoming, competitive, and perhaps a touch obsessive J

Doug: Completely false. Yes, the game attracts a number of teenage athletes, but one of the most unique aspects of Oklahoma D-Day, the largest scenario paintball game in the world, is the sheer diversity of people who play. You have men, women, children of all ages. High-tech computer whizzes, blue collar workers, vets, active military personnel, artists … the list goes on. Dewayne prides himself on maintaining Oklahoma D-Day as a family game and that kind of atmosphere creates a tight-knit community that draws people year after year. When you are at the campground by the field, it feels like a big family reunion. We worked hard to capture and convey that in the film and I’d like to think we succeeded.

Who were you most surprised enjoys Paintball?

Michael: I think the most surprising is the group of women players who are so gung ho that they intimidate the men they fight against. Granted, male players dominate the sport but there are women out there, like “Bond Chick” in the movie, who battle side by side with the boys and they play with a “take no prisoners” attitude.

Doug: The year we shot film we came across a group of active duty members of the 101st Airborne—not the re-created unit that is part of Oklahoma D-Day each year, but the real 101st of the U.S. Army. They were on leave from Afghanistan. My first thought was, why on Earth would real soldiers spend their limited vacation time immersed in a re-staged battle when they have the deal with real war every day on the job? When we found them we knew we had to include them in the film to find out exactly that. It turns out they signed up to participate as part of the “Fifthly 13”, which is the WWII-era division of the 101st Airborne that the movie the “Dirty Dozen” is based on. Jake McNiece was the Fifthly 13’s ringleader and Jake, who was 91 and living in Oklahoma, had been recruited by the Allies that year to attend Oklahoma D-Day and tell his war tales to attendees. Jake is hero among the 101st, and those active 101st Airborne members we found were there to meet their hero in person. The scene showing this meeting is part of the extra scenes available on the DVD of the film.

Soldiers of Paint

Soldiers of Paint / DOUBLE SIX PRODUCTIONS

Did you develop an interest in it yourselves from doing the movie?

Doug: I’ve never had an interest in actually playing paintball and did not develop one while making this film. Shooting a gun, I guess, is not as interesting to me as shooting a camera!

Michael: Actually, I have. In 2011 and 2012 I joined the Allied tank-killing unit – the 899th Black Cats. I was taught the art of tank killing and was actually able to take a few out. But most of the time they shot me…

What has the reaction been like to the movie?

Michael: We have been thrilled with the reviews we’ve received so far. We wanted to tell the story correctly and with authenticity for the players of Oklahoma D-Day. They placed a lot of trust in us to tell their story to the world and we have been told time and time again from the D-Day community (including the event owner Dewayne Convirs) that we did the job better than they could’ve imagined. That’s a huge relief. Even more we set out to tell an entertaining story to people who may not have any interest in paintball. We ourselves weren’t paintball players – we were looking for an interesting story to tell for a feature doc – one that hadn’t yet been told…something dramatic, entertaining, and unbelievable – yet true. We’ve had several reviewers point out that they had zero interest in watching a movie about paintball but took a chance on “Soldiers of Paint” and ended up loving it. As a filmmaker I feel proud that we took such a challenging and niche subject matter and created a film that has entertained such a wide range of people.

Doug: Fantastic! We knew paintball players would be excited about the film but our challenge was to make it something general audiences would enjoy.  We’ve had a number of non-paintball viewers, as well as wives whose husbands have dragged them to see the film, tell us how surprised they were at how much they enjoyed the film. That makes us feel good because we worked hard to make this film first and foremost about characters. The best stories are those that are told through strong characters and the people we found to participate in our film are truly unique and people you end up wanting to know more about after the hour and half is over.

Where can the film be purchased or rented?

Michael: Short answer:Check out our website for the answer: http://www.soldiersofpaint.com

Long answer: You can buy the DVD from our website www.soldiersofpaint.com (includes 25 mins bonus footage plus a great directors’ commentary). You can also buy/rent the movie digitally: Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, Cable On Demand (Comcast, Verizon, others).

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About the Author

Shawn S. Lealos
Shawn is a film critic with over 25 years of experience in print and online media. He is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and loves everything from critically acclaimed movies to B-level action flicks.
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