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FC Start: Footballers, Heroes, Tools of the State

The story is an improbable one that is typical of the industry that retold and reshaped it; a group of war prisoners who take on their captors on a football pitch and surprisingly manage to defy the odds (and instructions) to end the game in a draw. There is an American hero in the form of a rookie goalkeeper who makes a string of saves as well as the obligatory happy ending with the players managing to escape after being swept away by a jubilant crowd.

That is the script of Escape to Victory a movie that, more than three decades since its release, remains arguably the finest fictional portrayal of the game of football. It works not because the match action is particularly good (although it is done better than most) but mostly as the story draws on the powerful emotions that sport can foster. The plot itself might not be overly credible yet the idea that sport can deliver hope and instil faith where there seems to be none is totally believable.


"I Was Summoned In Some Way"

Paul Grech ,
There have been a number of movies based on the FC Start story of which ‘Escape To Victory’ is probably the most famous (although it is also the most loosely based). Tyler Gooden is looking to revisit the story although there is a major difference in his case: he’s going for animation rather than acting.

How did you learn about the FC Start story?
I read a short paragraph about it in a guidebook. I thought someone should make it into a film. Later I decided it should be me.

I was summoned in some way, I suppose.

The story has already been portrayed in a number of movies. Have you watched these? Will you take anything away from them?
I haven’t watched them. I am sticking to the questions and answers that move me in a personal way.

Does it make your job harder given that others have told the story? What will set your movie apart?
My challenge is the wave, not the other surfers. If I was making a film about another subject, I would still be faced with the same challenge of how to compose form, express beauty and communicate ideas. The audience enjoys the result, but for me, the subject matter is no different than staging a painting. I am not trying to do something to set it apart from something else, I want to bring forth truth.

How have you done your research? Obviously you’re aware that the game was used as a propaganda tool by the Soviet regime: how have you dug into the true story?
I read a lot. I had old newspaper articles from the era translated. I watch films and look at art from the region and era. I lived in Eastern Europe. I met and made friends with Ukrainians. I researched the true events, but I find the poetry is not in the facts.

Who wrote the script?
I did.

Why an animated movie?
It was the surest way I knew the film would get made!

Visually – from what has been shown so far – the movie looks stunning. How long does it take to prepare each frame? What is the process?
Thank you. It’s still in progress, so we will see. The screenplay leads to storyboards. Storyboards help determine what assets are needed. Assets, such as sets and characters, are created. Anything animated must be rigged like a puppet is rigged. Camera layouts and animation is done, blasted to low-res movie files, which are put together in a rough cut.

Somewhere in there, we begin working on colour and painting of all of this. Lots of art direction and planning. Then we light it based on all the art direction and concept designs, then we render several passes of each frame after it’s all been lit. Then we composite each shot, composed of those passes of light, for example. The passes of light combine with other render passes to give us the final result. Then we render those shots out. That comes together into the final edit, putting the shots together. Then we must do any final audio, voice over recording, sound mixing, music, sound design. It takes longer for us than a big studio because we are currently just a couple of people doing all the work.

Financially, how have you raised funds?
Money grows on trees. Every once and awhile, I just go pick some off!

When do you plan (or hope) to have the movie finished?
When the last frame is done. That’s all I can say for sure for now. But it will be done.

More information about this project can be found here.
Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer