Making movies with forces veterans
Many veterans miss the camaraderie of being in the forces. Barclays colleagues Katharine Collins, who makes films in her spare time, and Matt Weston, who lost both legs in Afghanistan and now runs the bank’s AFTER programme, are using their passion for film to bring former service personnel together.
Like the start of a classic film, Katharine Collins and Matt Weston didn’t hit it off when they first met. Katharine, a film-maker, and Matt, an army veteran, were brought together through their work at Barclays and got talking about movies – but couldn’t agree on what made a good one.
“It was a little strained at first,” says Katharine. “We’re both quite forthright in our views and we made them heard!”
Over time though, they bonded over their passion and began sharing their expertise. Katharine – whose day job is an Executive Assistant – was working on a film that required a weapons expert and asked Matt to help out as a consultant.
Matt explains: “At first I thought I was just lending a hand, but then I was invited down to the set. It was really cool, I got to meet some of the actors and found out how the whole thing worked. I had no idea how much work went into it all.”
Katharine: “I saw on the set how much Matt missed his former life in the military. It was really emotional to see him come alive and to be involved. When films go right, there is this camaraderie and a sense of working together as one. That’s when we decided that we might be able to take this further.”
Inspired by the positive impact of Barclays’ AFTER programme for veterans – in which Matt has worked as a Project Manager since 2015 – the pair hatched a plan to bring former service personnel and film-makers together under one umbrella in a new unit, open to everyone: Joining Forces.
Getting veterans into film
There was a positive reaction from the start. Matt explains: “When I put it out through my various networks of veterans, people were really keen to get involved. There was one person with PTSD who hadn’t left their house for a year, this was the first thing they’d wanted to do, and it was way out of their comfort zone.
“It’s quite a natural fit for people who were in the forces. I saw Andy McNab speak recently, and he said the same thing – so much of making a film is project management which people in the forces do from the outset.”
The project works by encouraging collaboration between film-makers and former service personnel.
Founded two years ago, it’s open to all and the team actively reach out to veteran’s charities. Generally, those who get involved became part of the crew on the set, although there is no limit to the roles that people can take on.
Katie: “We have worked with 10 former service personnel so far and we hope that eventually people will come to us, but it’s a case of getting the word out there are the moment.”
Love of Words
Joining Force’s first film, Love of Words, features Game of Thrones actor, Charles Dance. It was shown as part of the Art in the Aftermath exhibition in London, which exhibited work by injured service personnel and those living with PTSD to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War in November last year.
The film is about bullying and the effect that words can have. Katharine explains: “We can either let words destroy us or we can use them to empower us. The film ends with the line ‘Words are weapons, carry the right ones with you’ – that’s the message we wanted to get across.”
Matt explains how crucial their Barclays colleagues were in making it happen: “We couldn’t have made Love of Words without the solidarity of our colleagues. We raised some of the money for the film and our colleagues really got behind us.
“And we needed that help. Having never worked on a film before, I had no idea of the scale of project management involved. I didn’t have a clue! Katharine has taught herself about this process and I was able to learn from her.”
Matt lost both his legs and an arm in an explosion in Afghanistan, whilst clearing IEDs as a Bomb Disposal and High Risk Searcher with 33 Engineer Regiment in 2009. Not surprisingly, his recuperation was long and difficult. Reflecting on what the Joining Forces programme has meant to him, he says: “For me personally, it’s been so good to be involved – a really good distraction from dealing with my past.”
Katharine says his reaction is not unusual: “We were filming a scene and it triggered something emotional in one of the veterans. It just made me realise what this means to people, how important this is. That’s why we do it and what gives us confidence that there is scope to do so much more.”
More than the sense of togetherness though, collaborating has been cathartic too. “For me, as a film-maker, the most amazing thing is being able to move another human being, to see an emotional reaction,” says Katharine. “Whether it’s laughter, fear, even sadness, they’re all valuable emotions.”
The project’s first film, Love of Words, was a success, but for Katharine and Matt it’s just the start. Through Joining Forces, they are already at work on their first feature – titled Thin, Brittle, Mile – which tells the story of a soldier who faces his biggest battle once he has returned home from war.
Katharine says: “We want other film-makers, ultimately, to look at veterans and see the value not just in their experience and skills but in allowing them to continue to enjoy that sense of camaraderie and teamwork that they’ve become so accustomed to.
“The success of Joining Forces shows how mutually beneficial these collaborations can be. We want others to realise it too.”