We are re-sharing this article because Paterson won a Bafta award for Best Adapted Screenplay on Sunday evening. 

GROWING up, Lesley Paterson loved ET. “Everyone has that film that made them fall in love with the movies and that was mine,” she says.

Forty years on from ET’s release, the director of that beloved classic, Steven Spielberg, served in part as Oscar-nominee Paterson’s inspiration when she was writing the latest adaptation of All Quiet On The Western Front.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Paterson explained how she balances sports and screenwriting, her excitement for the upcoming Oscars and what makes her new film so compelling.

From sports to screenwriting

Paterson's own career could easily have been lifted out of a Hollywood script. Before making her way to Los Angeles, she was brought up in Stirling where she had a keen interest in sports.

“I was first off a rugby player. I played for a club in Stirling and I was the only girl there.”

Paterson eventually became too old to play for the team and so her attention instead turned to competing in triathlons. She explained: “I fell in love with it and it all got pretty good, pretty quick. I was part of the Scottish and then the British team.”

However, a major rule change meant in the bike stage in triathlons went from non-drafting to drafting. This essentially means you can ride directly behind the rider in front of you. This, coupled with the programme that Paterson was on, led to a change of heart.

“These national programmes didn’t really suit my personality. They were very data-driven and I’m more of a heart-based athlete.

“My future husband was a sports psychologist at the time. We ended up getting married and moving to California because he got a professorship at the university out in San Diego.”

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Entering the film industry

Throughout her life, Paterson’s love for film and sport went hand in hand. When she wasn’t training, she was studying drama at Loughborough University.

Upon moving to Los Angeles, she acted in a variety of independent films before meeting her future writing partner Ian Stokell. The road to the pair’s Oscar nomination started 16 years ago when they first bought the rights to All Quiet On The Western Front.

“I was aware of the novel and it was so powerful. We knew it hadn’t been turned into a film for a long time, not in a modern sense anyway.

“And so that’s when we looked into the rights and low and behold they were available which is almost unheard of for a title of this calibre.”

It was then a further 14 years until production started, but once things did eventually get under way, Paterson knew they were on to a winner.

“When Edward [Berger, director] emailed us and said that it was a passion project, and that it would be an honour to direct, I thought it would be something special.”

Berger, from West Germany, is a prolific producer and has worked on several hit TV shows including Patrick Melrose, Your Honor and Deutschland 83.

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The Film

Erich Maria Remarque’s 1928 classic anti-war novel has been adapted twice before, once in 1930 (when, incidentally, it took home Best Picture) and for television in 1979.

The latest adaption is a powerful piece of filmmaking, a challenging watch which spares no effort in encapsulating the horrors of the First World War.

The film opens on the battlefield where a German soldier becomes the latest in a long line of casualties.

We then follow the soldier’s uniform as it is cleaned, reupholstered and repurposed before being handed over to our protagonist, Paul Bäumer.

Despite coming in the opening five minutes, – which Paterson believes is one of the film’s most powerful moments.

“I actually came up with that idea when I was out for a run and I had been watching Schindler’s List and that moment where we see the girl in the red coat is such a famous sequence”, she explained.

“I was so proud of that sequence because thematically, it is the essence of the entire film. I think the way it was shot with the music was so devastating because it basically tells everyone what’s about to happen.”

The film’s score, composed by German Volker Bertelmann, is fittingly more akin to something from a horror than your classic war movies in a bid to, as the director himself put it, “destroy the image”.

Paterson explained: “That was his phrase in terms of the impact he wanted the score to have and that’s exactly what it does because you never feel comfortable.“The main goal was to make the audience never feel comfortable, give it a sense of foreboding and then make it a bit more melodic when there’s a (rare) moment of relief. There’s a real mechanistic tone which is perfect because the First World War was when we really saw the mechanisation of warfare.”

Return to sport

At the same time as finding success in the industry over the past decade or so, Paterson also made a triumphant return to the sport she was previously so invested in.

She became the XTERRA Triathlon World Champion, a version of the sport based in off-road environments, in 2011, 2012 and 2018.

Did you ever expect this?

What about her hero Steven Spielberg? Has she had a chance to tell him of his influence on her on the project?

“I actually already met him. I had to do a speech and he was in the audience. I went up to chat to him and he knew who I was,” she said.

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“He hadn’t seen the film yet but hopefully he’s seen it now and I’m sure I’ll meet him again.”

The road to the Oscars is well under way, with Paterson, Berger and Stokell up for the Best Adapted Screenplay award.

Paterson explained how she’s having a “custom designer gown” made ahead of the big night. 

Growing up in Stirling as the only girl in a boy’s rugby club, did she ever expect to be rubbing shoulders with the stars?

“Yes and no. I’ve always had this inner belief that I’d be able to succeed. I don’t really know where that comes from to be honest.

“I just believe that things will happen. I believe I can make myself the best athlete, the best writer and the best producer. I think my husband and I have something really special to offer.

“Looking back, I feel I always knew I could do this.”

All Quiet on the Western Front is available to view on Netflix now.