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The Comedy of Errors

Cold Warrior

26 April 11 words: Harry Wilding
"This might make people question what really goes on behind the strained smiles and Olympic medals"
Cold Warrior is the latest short film from award-winning writer/director, Emily Greenwood, and is being produced by Nottingham based, BAFTA nominated production company, Wellington Films. Set in Romania in 1980 in the run-up to the Moscow Olympics, fourteen year old gymnast, Ana, trains hard with her trusted coach, Teodor. Wanting nothing more than a taste of success at the impending Olympics, their ‘Olympic spirit’ is soon overwhelmed by the State’s desire to win. 

The film is inspired by abortion-doping allegations that have come to light in recent years from a former President of the Olympic Committee. The pregnancy and subsequent abortion leads to a natural boost of red blood cells and hormones giving the gymnast an undetected increase in strength. Gymnasts, some as young as fourteen, were believed to have been impregnated by their coaches and then forced to undergo traumatic abortions after a three month term. Cold Warriors is a fictional film based on these allegations - at its core is a story of a relationship (that of Ana and Teodor) based on trust, which breaks down under severe pressure and leads to betrayal. Emily is hoping to raise the final funds for her film through crowd funding site, IndieGoGo…

What was it that interested you about the subject of abortion doping that you decided to write a screenplay about it?
A colleague first told me about abortion-doping, Olga Korbut had been in the press at the time which led to the subject being raised. I’m generally attracted to stories about individuals who experience something extraordinary, something that’s going to put their personality to the test. I like giving something to the audience that they may not know about and also stories that provoke strong emotions and raise challenging questions. When I first heard about abortion-doping, it inspired me to write a story that would fulfill all of those criteria.
 Cold Warrior
How close to the alleged real life events is the story of Cold Warrior?
I've read a mixture of allegations on the subject: a Russian Olympian claimed her coach threatened she wouldn't go to the Olympics if she didn't get pregnant - by her boyfriend - and then have an abortion. An unnamed former Soviet coach said that girls who didn't have boyfriends were forced to sleep with their coaches until they got pregnant. There was also an Olympic sports shooter who explained that she was persuaded by a national chief physician that pregnancy would ensure a 150% guarantee of victory…
There are various stories on the subject. However until they are proven to be fact, they still remain mere allegations. The story of Ana and the characters around her are entirely fictitious. I have taken inspiration from various biographies that I have read about real life coaches and gymnasts and spoken to people who worked with Olympic gymnasts at the time. So hopefully the authenticity of Ana's environment will feel real.
The title doesn’t immediately bring to mind gymnastics, why did you choose Cold Warrior as the piece’s title?
The phrase 'cold warrior' is used to describe someone who supports or is engaged in the cold war, someone that was working for the government as a spy for example. I liked the idea of Ana being seen as a “worker gymnast”. She earns a wage just like any factory worker, only her job is to win global recognition for the country through medals. Athletes were very important people to the state at that time, they were well paid for their “good work”. So Ana is a cold warrior in that respect. I also like the connotations of the word 'warrior' giving Ana the quality of being a fighter, which she is.
It’s quite a controversial subject matter – what’s the reaction you’re hoping to gain from this film?
I very much hope that people will feel that I am treating it purely from a speculative point of view - the last thing I want to do is point fingers or accuse anyone. Giving the film a location was difficult, but it had to be done. Romania felt like the most interesting and fitting backdrop for my story - I'm not suggesting these things happened in Romania, and I hope I don't offend anyone from that perspective.

Cold Warrior is about standing up for your beliefs against all odds, even if it means sacrificing what you really want. I hope that this theme will come across in the film and that it will encourage people to fight for what they want a little more. I also hope that Cold Warrior might make people question what really goes on behind the strained smiles and Olympic medals. Whilst I am great supporter of sport and healthy competition, it concerns me to think how far coaches and athletes might go to win. Athletes, particularly children and teenagers, continue to face sexual, physical and mental abuse from their coaches. Thankfully it is not something that is entirely over looked. In 2001, the NSPCC opened the Child Protection In Sport Unit (CPSU), which aims to minimise the risk of child abuse during sporting activities. We have pledged to donate $1,000 to the CPSU if we reach our $10,000 goal.

You’re raising the funding through IndieGoGo – do you think crowd funding is the way forward for film makers in the current climate? 
The crowd funding sites are plausible for funding music; unsigned and famous bands alike seem to be going down this route as it works well when you have a fan base. With film it's slightly more difficult simply because it costs so much more to make a film, takes a great deal longer, and film tends to build up a fan base after they’re made. So with that in mind, it’s difficult to raise a very large amount on a film through crowd-funding. Having said that, we’ve now reached 25% of our goal which is amazing! It has been a very heart-warming experience receiving the support we have through IndieGoGo and I can’t express enough how grateful I am for every single penny donated so far.

What do you think the biggest challenges of making Cold Warrior will be?
It is the general consensus that you should write what you know, so I'm already making things difficult for myself by writing about something that is so shrouded in secrecy and unknown to most people. Creating the eighties Romanian backdrop on a low budget and the illusion of a packed Olympic stadium isn’t going to be easy. Casting Ana is also a challenge, considering that we need someone who can pass as a Olympic level gymnast and be a great actress who can do a believable Romanian accent! There are many challenges ahead, but they’ll be worthwhile!

What drew you to Wellington Films to produce the piece?
Rachel Robey was on the jury for the Kodak Showcase the year my film A Neutral Corner won Best Film. She was a big fan, so naturally that caught my attention! Al and Rachel have a relaxed, good humoured, yet professional approach to film making which I like. Tom and Anna are also proving to be very competent producers – they’re all just very easy to get on with and work with.
What’s the appeal of short films as a director and writer?
My short films are really a means to directing my first feature - shorts showcase talent.  Making a short film also serves as a bit of a practice run as it's the same as making a feature, just on a much smaller scale. I directed A Neutral Corner four years ago now, so making a short version of Cold Warrior before the feature will certainly help to 'oil the cogs' so to speak!
So there’s a long term plan to make it into a feature length film?
Yes, I am already at second draft on the feature script so the short is essentially a pilot. Cold Warrior as a short script was one of my biggest challenges because once I had written the feature, it was hard to make choices on what to put in the short because it's such a big story. I’m confident that I’ve successfully captured the essence of what the feature will be about though, so hopefully the short will really help to show what can be expected from the proposed feature.
You’ve worked on a number of features - Quantum of Solace, Scott Pilgrim and Sweeney Todd to name but a few - how did you get into film making? 
I have worked in post-production ever since I returned to London after my media degree in France. I got a job as a Runner, then quickly moved into a more technical role which then lead to assisting editors, then finally to being a Digital Film Editor. My role comes in after the film has been cut; normally a film is cut in a PAL or HD environment, which is not high enough quality for cinema. So once a film is edited, I effectively have to put it together as it was done in the cutting room, but using the high res images that are acceptable for cinema and DVD. I also do a range of things from titling to various 'fixing' visual effects like removing booms in shot or unwanted pimples, wrinkles and badly glued wig lines. Sometimes I wonder if my credit should be Digital Make-up Artist! Once the reels are compiled, the film then gets colour graded in a theatre and made to look pretty. Then finally I slap a roller on the end and it's ready to be released to the cinemas.
Emily Greenwood - director & writer
Would you ever write a script and let someone else direct it, or is something that you have written too precious to you, to trust with someone else?
I would never say never... but at right now, my main ambition is to direct. I could imagine that once I've become an established director, writing for someone else might become a more attractive proposition. I certainly don't have an issue putting my work into another person's hands. A large part of being a director is about finding a great team of talented people and trusting them to do what they're good at. It's a shame when people get precious about their ideas or let their egos get in the way when someone else’s idea is clearly better. The way I see it is whatever's best for the film is best for me.

There are alarmingly few woman film writers and even fewer directors. Why do you think this is still the case in this day and age?
To be honest, I can only speculate, but I think the question can probably be applied to management roles in all lines of work. Making a career as a film director, certainly as far as I'm experiencing it, is a very slow process and having a child usually comes at the point where a woman is peaking in her career. A feature film costs a lot of time and money, so you have to prove that you can do the job - you can’t really dip out of it and then go back to easily because it just delays the process even further.

I think this theory applies more to directing though, as writing is something you can do from home. I'm sure there are many contributing factors. I’m sure it has a lot to do with women’s nature and their instinctive interests. If you think about it from a purely biological sense, it seems logical - if all women were naturally inclined to take charge and look after their careers, what would happen to fertility levels and the population?

Any last words to LeftLion readers…
If you believe in what you’re doing, whatever it is, and you really can't imagine doing anything else, keep persevering. As far as the film industry is concerned, you need a thick skin - be prepared to take 1,000 knocks for every one glint of interest and do it for love not money, because there's not a lot of the latter! Bear in mind that no-one's right in art – what's one person's trash is another person's treasure...

Cold Warrior IndieGoGo page

Cold Warrior sponsume page

Wellington Film official site

NSPCC website

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