An interview with the men responsible for Soldiers of Paint—Michael DeChant and Doug Gritzmacher.
I recently had the opportunity to watch a fascinating documentary, Soldiers of Paint. Although it’s about a subject that I have no knowledge of at all, the quality of the movie and way the filmmakers approached the subjects really impressed me. This was not some fan film with YouTube production values—the camerawork was outstanding, the graphics top-notch and they managed to instill a sense of excitement about paintball that I didn’t realize was possible.
This film was co-directed and co-written by Michael DeChant and Doug Gritzmacher. Both met in film school at American University in Washington, DC.
Martin—Why did you pick paintball as a subject for your documentary?
Doug—Mike and I were looking for an idea for a feature documentary and we found Oklahoma D-Day. We then went there to check it out. What we found is what we were looking for in a good documentary—engaging characters, a dramatic story and humor—and we found all those at Oklahoma D-Day. Paintball just happens to be the thing that brings all these things together.
Martin—Are you paintballers?
Doug—I’m not but Mike’s played a few times.
Mike—I was not a hard-core player by any stretch. At was at a friend’s bachelor party and one of the things we did was paintball. I think I’d been shot and was on the sidelines when some young teenage player asked me if I was going to Oklahoma for D-Day this year. I said ‘what on Earth are you talking about?’ and he told me of an event with upwards of 5000 people stage a recreation of the invasion of Normandy! It sounded incredible…and low and behold it turned out to be real! I sent the website to Doug and he was excited too—as it had tanks and airplanes and everything. Doug actually picked up the phone and called the coordinator and Dwayne agreed to have us there.
Martin—What other projects do you have together?
Mike—We both got our Masters of Fine Arts at American University at the same time. And when we were there, for our thesis project, together we completed Bone Mixers—a short documentary about a group of DC area domino players who got together every week to play dominos. What was fascinating about it is that it’s a really unique and eclectic group of multicultural people—Jamaicans, Cubans, Czechs,…folks from all over. They would religiously play dominos together and it unified them and was their universal language. We did get it in to a lot of festivals and won a lot of awards—and was a blueprint for the style we’d use in a feature film. So, with Soldiers of Paint paintball is the massive thread that brings all these very different people from all over and with different backgrounds.
Martin—Yeah…I was surprised to see the German paintballers there!
Michael—You might not have realized…but that was their first experience of America! They didn’t go to New York City, they didn’t go to Disney World or Hollywood but went to Wyandot, Oklahoma!
Martin–How did everyone respond to your being there at Oklahoma D-Day?
Doug—Like with Bone Mixers, in which we spent five months playing Dominoes with the characters before we started filming, we didn’t just jump in and shoot footage. The first year we went to the game we spent it getting to know the people and playing with them before we even started the film. We had to earn their trust and were eventually invited into their homes for some of the early scenes in the film.
Martin—What are you working on now?
Doug—We’re still working on this one. We’ve discovered that there’s more to making a film than we thought—there’s marketing, publicity and interviews. We are still focused on this project right now.
Martin—I love that your film looks so professional—it looks really, really nice and I was impressed that this looked so much nicer than a traditional fan film but had gorgeous CG and excellent camerawork.
Michael—Matt Nagy did the CG and Doug was the film’s director of photography.
Martin—Does it cause any problems when BOTH of you are the directors and writers for the film?
Doug—It wasn’t a problem. Making the film was such a massive job, it was wonderful to have another person there. And, having a collaborator gave us a chance to bounce ideas off each other.
Michael—I would add that we are very proud of the film and that we both complemented each other in different ways to get the film done. We need 160 hours of raw footage we needed to cut down…
Martin—So you’ll soon be making Soldiers of Paint II…right?!
Michael—No we just use a lot of that footage as special features on the DVD. We are very happy that the film is being shown on Netflix but you don’t get to see these special features…
Martin—So this would be a great reason to buy the DVD!
Doug—Yeah, we’d love to sell more DVDs! If you want to watch it on Netflix, please do but you can hear the directors’ commentary and the extra footage with the DVD. It’s available from www.soldiersofpaint.com
Interview by Lead Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Martin Hafer