Winnipeg's Frantic Films has embarked on its
newest historical-documentary-meets-reality television series, tentatively
entitled Reach for the Sky, and one of the seven young men who will portray
military trainees is Robin Hillman of Brandon.
Hillman, a graduate of Brandon University who is presently
working in Red Lake, Ont., has a few links to the main focus of the series,
namely the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
He not only is a former air cadet, but he is also the
descendant of three Second World War pilots who trained to fly Lancaster
bombers through the BCATP.
Although Hillman has much experience performing as a musician,
he has had no previous acting training.
"I'm pretty nervous about that," says Hillman, who feels
that the drills and marching from his cadet days will come in handy. "All
that stuff will come naturally to me."
Encouraged by his father, Bill, who is the web master
for the Brandon BCATP museum and one of the individuals Frantic Films contacted
because of his family's connection to the world-famous air school, Robin
sent in an application and was contacted within one week.
"It was pretty amazing. I was surprised. I felt lucky
to be chosen," says Robin. "It's kind of interesting because my great-uncle
was 23 when he died during the war and I'm 23 now, so it's a strange coincidence.
I feel honoured to be able to do this and be able to go through the same
sort of things that he went through when he was training."
Frantic Films is the award-winning company that has developed
the internationally popular Pioneer Quest, Klondike -- The Quest for Gold,
and others for the History Channel.
The company, which is also a leader in the field of digital
visual effects, as seen in Scooby Doo 2 and X-Men 2, plans to release the
finished product in time to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the
Second World War.
Frantic Films' CEO and executive producer, Jamie Brown,
is the creator behind these live action programs.
"The Quest series have been people really trying to recreate
something in as realistic a way possible. This one being about the war,
of course, there's really no way to properly recreate any element of war,
with any credibility, in my opinion," says Brown.
"It's not the entire experience, but they will go to an
original BCATP -- the best preserved one we were able to get access to
-- and they will go for two weeks of intense training and BCATP experiences,
which includes World War II-era flight simulators, weapons training, drilling,
flights in some of the period planes, including Tiger Moths, and ultimately,
a flight in a Lancaster."
The series will be set on an original BCATP site in Picton,
Ont., and the training of the seven 'recruits' will be done in an authentic
"I'm definitely looking forward to flying in a Lancaster
itself and shooting off machine guns. I was pretty excited when I learned
I'd be doing that," says Hillman. "And going through the training, it's
all going to be done like in the '40s."
Shooting will also take place in Hamilton, Ont. -- where
the newly trained crew will fly in one of the two remaining Lancasters
-- as well as in England, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Through this footage of the upcoming training session,
video-diary footage from each of the seven trainees, first-person interviews
with veterans, archival footage and other documentary techniques, this
series of four one-hour episodes will retell the story of the $2-billion
BCATP, the bombers and the young men involved.
"We've been working on this for a little over a year,"
says Brown, who is dedicated to authenticity in the Quest series and now
Reach for the Sky and works with an authority board to maintain historical
"We have a bunch of researchers who find the experts in
the field -- the people who have run aeronautical museums or work at the
Canadian War Museum. We start with those people and work out and find experts
in the field."
The series hits close to home for another reason: the
Reach for the Sky's creator's late grandfather, Morley Brown, of Treesbank,
was one of those young men who had trained through the BCATP.
"It's going to resonate on a lot of different levels,
but certainly the primary one i s to take the opportunity to honour these
people that I have a huge amount of respect for," says Brown.
For more information about the Reach for the Sky project,
or for an authentic glimpse into the past, visit the Brandon
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, located at the Brandon Airport.