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How to make a war movie for a broader audience

Published: Thursday, Aug. 16 2012 3:25 p.m. MDT

Dave Nibley plays the role of "Jones" in "Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed."

Go Films

When director Ryan Little and producer Adam Abel finished “Saints and Soldiers” in 2003, the film originally received an R rating.

That was a problem for two content-conscious filmmakers hoping to create a film that parents and teenagers could be comfortable with.

So the duo made some adjustments and had to “go the rounds” with the Motion Picture Association of America, but eventually secured a PG-13 rating.

Obtaining a PG-13 rating for “Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed,” however, was not a problem.

“Because of that experience, we had that mindset going in,” Abel said. “This time it sailed through.”

The “mindset,” Abel explained, was a concentrated effort to make a film that balances the horror of war and maintains broad audience appeal, especially for families. Their film is less about the graphic realities of war and more about "moments of humanity."

“It’s a tricky balance,” Little said. “We want to make sure there’s enough action, character development and drama, so that you can have that great roller coaster ride, but we also downplayed the elements of gore and things like that to get into that rating zone.”

"Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed," which stars Jasen Wade, Corbin Allred, David Nibley and Lincoln Hoppe, premieres in theaters Friday, Aug. 17.

The World War II movie focuses on the mission of a U.S. Army elite unit, the 517th, a parachute regimental combat team that jumped into enemy territory in Southern France on Aug. 15, 1944. Their mission, Operation: Dragoon, was to support and protect the Allied troops marching to Berlin. Those that survived the jump into the fog fell under immediate attack. The story is based on true events and characters, including Harland “Bud” Curtis, a member of the 1st Battalion communications section.

The movie was shot in Northern Utah in 15 days. As an independent, low-budget film, Little and Abel will be the first to say that “Airborne Creed” is no “Saving Private Ryan” or “Band of Brothers,” epic productions that are jam-packed with Hollywood’s expensive, state-of-the-art special effects.

But they also wanted to create a WWII movie that is authentic, compelling and accurate in nature, yet still maintains sensitivity to their target audience.

Amidst the exploding bombs, machine gun fire and bloody makeup, Little says they followed the same recipe that worked in the first “Saints and Soldiers," which won several best picture awards at film festivals around the country.

“The reality of war is pretty graphic and hard-core. As we did our research, we heard some pretty horrific war stories, and we’d say, ‘Yeah, that won’t go in our movie,’” Little said laughing. “At the same time, there are a lot of emotional stories that are touching, the moments of humanity in war. Those are the ones we gravitate toward, where someone in a really difficult situation makes the right choice.

“War is more gory than we portray it, but we’re not trying to make a giant visual spectacle with lots of violence. We are going more for the humanity hidden in the depths of war, the human story, the relationships between the characters.”

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