John Parr Interview 21/08/2023
Dear John, congratulations! Your ‘Unconquered’ was a finalist in multiple categories, and won the ‘Best Sound Award’ in MSFF’s First Season! How are you feeling?
Firstly, thank you all for asking me to elaborate and for the kind awards you bestowed on our little film in your wonderful first season. I have mixed emotions about the reaction to the film in festivals. Yes we have won over 50 awards in festivals around the world but the Big festivals seem impenetrable.
Below is a letter I sometimes send to them in a final desperate attempt to get them to really look at the film without agenda or Bias. I fully understand that the big festivals seek to pick a wining film that goes on to win an Academy Award or BAFTA. It validates them. Its like picking a horse in a race…they go for the favourite- the right pedigree- the right trainer- the right jockey. Our little film has none of these other than quality and content and I feel it suffers because of this in the bigger festivals.
My dream has been described by one of Canada’s greatest sons as David and Goliath.
One of your eminent lawyers put it more crudely, saying it was a wet dream to think our little film could win at your great festival with no affiliation to a distributor and no seal of involvement by a major film body – and with only a team of disabled filmmakers and a disabled cast whose life changing story is told by themselves.
Cinema is the last Cathedral and we are indeed David in the battle with Goliath.
But we have an arm strong and true and a stone that many believe is a diamond.
Two sons of Canada and I were gifted such a diamond once before, and against all odds it helped one wheel around the world to raise $360,000,000 for a cause that changed the face of disability forever. – and the other to continue a journey that shaped the world of music and whose philanthropic work has brought hope to countless Canadian families whose children battled critical illness.
Such dreams change the world and you have another within your grasp . . .
Please don’t let it fall”
Sadly this seems to fall on deaf ears….
I have only shown the film to a normal audience once at a charity fund raiser. At the end of the film the crowd of 170 stood and applauded. Some shook my hand and said the film inspired them and made them want to make more of their lives and indeed inspired to help others. One man wrote saying that he had lost his wife to a painful battle with cancer and that he too was just diagnosed with a brain tumour. He said Unconquered made him view his wife’s death differently and that in future he would see his own condition very differently. These words and thoughts are why I made Unconquered, in fact the only reason…to inspire and try to bring hope and direction to those who are struggling in life. In truth the feeling I get is better than an Oscar…none the less I would still like one.
I give my all to everything I commit to. I honestly believe that anything I have achieved in life has been gifted to me. From God, or the Universe, this is a conversation for another day. I just have a knowing deep within me that there is a great power out there and I continue to search for enlightenment. I use the skills I have honed over the years to do honour to these gifts Be it a song, a script, or a film.
Your project is truly admirable, and most importantly, inclusive! Would you tell us more about it? How much work is behind it and what have been the biggest satisfactions you’ve gained from it?
I had met Dot and Dave, the two soldiers in Unconquered, just before the pandemic. They honoured me by telling me their incredible story and in that moment I knew I had to make a film about them.
At that time I thought I would get a small video company to shoot it and try and get some sponsorship. The pandemic came and went , along with the video company and the sponsors, so it was down to me. I had made a promise to these men . . .
I Invested my life savings in equipment and employing a handful of local film making friends. Their experience was mainly corporate videos and I had a Hollywood production in my head. This was the toughie…I saw every image and heard every sound long before shooting even began, and getting that in other peoples minds was challenging. Thankfully everyone put their trust in me and gave me the benefit of the doubt.
The soldiers did the same and allowed me to take them back to their darkest times re-enacting life changing moments and issues in their lives. The trust Dot and Dave gave me is a high point of my life.
I knew a couple of my crew had a disability but when we were doing the credits I realised that five of the seven of us had a disability. I believe this has brought great weight to the filming and indeed the shared journeys that were discussed during it. I am proud of the score, it was a huge challenge and although I have done many movie main themes I had not done a score. Luckily the main theme came to me early in the writing and it became a great platform to work off. Melody is all and even the short cues had to have something memorable.
What about you, John, like the main characters in your film, have you ever faced adversity in your life that stopped you for a moment? The message we feel you want to express is to never give up, through your desire to tell a story of courage. Is that right?
Again I thank you for your kind words. From a small boy, I was cursed with ambition. Something burned deep within me that made me strive to be the best I could be. I was a child of the sixties and to break out of the small mining town I was born in, in the north of England seemed impossible. No one from there had ever broken through and made their way into the entertainment business, I felt geographically trapped.
I first played for money in bands at the age of 12. I left school at 15 having done over 150,000 miles around the UK playing pubs and clubs. Like that great line in Billy Joel’s song “Piano Man”…people would always say to me “Man what are you doing here”? It kept me going . . .
I could fill clubs, and get a standing ovation but could not get past the receptionist at a record company. I continued banging my head against the wall until I was 29 when the van and the band finally blew up. My wife said “Just write songs and I will keep us” So the next four years saw me locked away just writing and recording demos of my songs. I continued to get knocked back and often suffered real abuse from record labels and publishers. It was torture and the clock was ticking, I could not let my wife continue to be the sole breadwinner.
Then I got lucky…Meatloaf heard a couple of tunes and within a month I was living in America with him and his family working on his new Album. Two months later I signed an Artiste deal with Atlantic Records and success began. . .
Two American number-one hits – twelve Hollywood movie themes and touring with the biggest names of the era.
The biggest satisfaction to me was writing St elmo’s Fire ( Man in Motion ) with David Foster …although it was for the movie I wrote the lyric about an unknown young disabled athlete Rick Hansen who was planning to wheel around the world on the “man in motion” journey. The rest his history, Rick wheeled 29,000 Km around the world and to date we have raised $360,000,000 for spinal research.
I know in my heart, that Unconquered has the same power for good that “ man in motion” had. Just like Rick Hansen back then, It just needs a champion.
‘I believe Cinema is the last Cathedral. That rare place place where it is still possible to touch hearts and minds with truth, goodness and hope.’ This is a quote from you and it really struck us. Can you explain more about your feeling for film and what prompted you — after years of a luminous career in the music business, which continue all now — to invest your time in this very difficult world?
We have lost so many role models in our modern world, so many, so-called great people have betrayed themselves and indeed those who looked up to them. The all-powerful Dollar has corrupted many decisions and careers. For all the good the church and religion have done, revelations of wickedness and violence have poisoned faith and beliefs. Who in the world could we ask our children to look towards for honesty and inspiration?
There have been films and moments within them that have helped shape my life. They have inspired me to want to be a better person and do good- to face the impossible in the belief that anything can be overcome.
I am deeply saddened by the ethos of modern cinema. I cannot understand how, when the bar has been set so high by the great cinema of the past, we settle for something less than greatness or at least to attempt to achieve it.
Cinema is a place you should enter in one mindset and leave in another. Cinema is dying because of the lack of real truth and integrity. Entertainment is all, without it, you are just preaching to deaf ears. Entertainment is the gateway . . .if the message has integrity and really honesty of intent, it can make a huge impact on the audience that can live with them for a lifetime.
So why would I re enter the torture chamber and indeed to step into the hardest world of all…film!
Something deep within me tells me . . .I have to do it. . . .I am capable of doing it and I have faith that I may be gifted again. My motives are almost entirely selfless. Yes I want success but other than making enough profit to continue the journey, trying to make a difference and make folks happy, hopefully and inspired is the driving force.
In thanking you for your confidence in showing us your wonderful work, we ask: is there more to come? What can we expect?
I joke that I am going to work until I’m Ninety and then decide what I am going to do.
I have been scriptwriting the past thirty years. Like most creative people I spend 90% creating and less than 10% promoting.
I hope Unconquered demonstrates what I can achieve as a writer/director with limited funds – no actors and a small crew.
A calling card that I hope can get allies to help bring the scripts I have been polishing to the big screen. Typically of me, they have the recurring theme of hope and inspiration tempered with real-life humour, without which the day would be long.
I thank you for reading this….well you did ask.