Are you ready for a spine-tingling Christmas tale that will make you question your reality? Disney Plus and Alfonso Cuarón, the mastermind behind ‘Gravity’ and ‘Roma,’ present ‘The Shepherd’, a short film that will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Written and directed by Iain Softley, and starring John Travolta as the mysterious saviour, ‘The Shepherd’ is based on the book by Frederick Forsyth and tells the story of a young RAF pilot who faces a life-or-death situation on Christmas Eve. Flying home across the North Sea, he loses his radio and electric power, and his fuel is running low. Just when he thinks he is doomed, he hears a voice on the radio, guiding him to safety. But who is this voice, and what is his connection to the pilot? Find out in ‘The Shepherd’, a ghost story that will touch your heart and challenge your mind.
On a recent press tour for the short, Writer/Director, Softley and Travolta gave us a little insight into the making of the film.
Travolta fell in love with the book over 30 years ago, with the story having resonated so much with his own experience he went on to by the rights but it took all this time to come to fruition.
“The year was 1989; I had just purchased a vampire jet just like this as one does. I had flown it for 2 years, I was doing a film in Canada, I was in a bookstore and I saw a small book in a novella with a Vampire Jet on the front of it, written by Frederick Forsyth and I thought I had to read this. I instantly fell in love with this book, it had been my dream to one day make it into a film. A couple of years later I purchased the rights to this book to make it into a film, but right after Pulp Fiction, I was doing one movie after another, After 10 years I just let it go and decided I was never going to get to do it. Then this hero came along (Director Iain Softley) who had also fallen in love with it as well as Alfonso (Cuarón) and brought me back into the group.
One interesting side note, the fate of the project is I actually experienced a total electrical failure, not in a Vampire but in a corporate jet over Washington DC prior to discovering the book. So when I read the book it even resonated more because of this experience I personally had. I knew what it felt like to absolutely think you are going to die, I had 2 good jet engines but I had no instruments, no electric, nothing. I thought it was over just like this boy. Then. as if by a miracle, I descended as per the rules to a lower altitude, I saw the Washington DC monument and identified that Washington International Airport was right next to it. Then made a landing, just like the boy does in the film. So I was reading the book saying I lived this. I was young enough then, that I could have played this pilot but I had to wait 30 years to play the Shepherd.”
Director Iain Softley had a hard decision to make on the format of the film after he got an offer he couldn’t refuse from Alfonso Cuarón to include the story in his short film series for Disney+
“Originally Bill (Kenwright) wanted it to be a movie, a feature. So I wrote a full-length, and then my friend Alfonso Cuarón came across the story. I didn’t know that he had also fallen in love with the story when he was a child in Mexico. He asked me at the beginning of the process would I consider doing it as a 40-minute film as he had a series for Disney+. By then we were down the road of doing a movie, a year past and nothing had happened as we were in the middle of lockdown, people thought no one is going to go to the cinema again. At that point, Alfonso called me again and said I still want you to do it, I really would love this to be in my series. He said it’s funded and you can cast who you want. I remember the biggest worry I had of taking it down to 40 minutes, was everyone I spoke who always talk about how emotional for them at the end, I thought am I going to be able to convey that emotion in 40 minutes. “
Music plays a big part in setting the right emotional tone to give it that Christmas feeling, Travolta humbly took credit for the earworm that brings that tone the warmth and empathy that makes this an endearing watch.
“May I brag about my one-producer contribution? I will take credit for one thing, I’m in Florida on the phone and I said Iain, I have only one request, because I don’t have the ultimate power you guys have, I’m along for the ride and hopefully my suggestions will stick. When I first read Freddie’s book, in my mind I imagined Carol of the Bells and every time that jet made a turn it was a different down note, I asked please consider it, using it when he first takes off and those lights go off and the airport shuts down. I just had this feeling it would be absolutely magical. When you allowed that and I saw it, I balled.”
The film also stars Steven Mackintosh, Millie Kent, Simon Wilson, Iwan Bond, Claire Price, Simon Lennon, Jack Donoghue, Asan N’Jie, Olatunji Ayofe and Scarlet Grace.
The film is eligible for both the Academy Awards and the BAFTAs in the live Short category. This short film will be released worldwide on December 1st.