NO SMALL LIFE
RAGS FEATURE FILM PROJECT
COURAGE KNOWS NO SIZE
A scrappy stray dog and an American soldier form an unbreakable bond amid the brutal realities of war. 'No Small Life' follows their stirring journey of friendship, sacrifice, and extraordinary courage in the face of adversity.
Late one night, in the streets of Paris during the final brutal months of World War I, an extraordinary and unlikely friendship is formed that will become the stuff of legend. Here, a scruffy, abandoned dog, initially mistaken for a pile of rags, crosses paths with Private James Donovan, an American "doughboy" stationed in the Signal Corps of the illustrious U.S. 1st Infantry Division, renowned as "The Fighting First."
So begins one of the most extraordinary buddy stories of World War I, as Donovan's attempt to protect Rags from the dangers of the battlefield, finds the loyal canine refusing to be left behind, following him everywhere, even to the front lines.
Rags is adopted by the 1st Division as their mascot and stepping into his newfound role, reveals a repertoire of uncanny natural abilities that swiftly transform him into a living legend. Amidst the chaos of devastating battles, Rags emerges as a beacon of hope, using his unique talents to save countless lives. His extraordinary abilities extend to locating broken communication lines, alerting soldiers to incoming shells, and even joining a reconnaissance officer in a surveillance balloon.
Donovan, a man who struggles to articulate his emotions verbally, finds solace in the fact that Rags comprehends him effortlessly, even without the need for spoken communication and amidst the trials of war, the connection between Rags and Donovan deepens, with each leaning on the other for survival.
The pinnacle of Rags’ heroism comes during his final mission, as Donovan and Rags find themselves taking part in the Meuse–Argonne offensive, the largest, and most devasting, operation of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
While on a perilous mission to repair shattered communication lines, Donovan and Rags find themselves caught in the devastating crossfire of shell explosions and a relentless gas attack. In the midst of chaos, Rags, now blinded in one eye and deaf in one ear, defies the odds. As shells burst around him, he courageously limps back through the turmoil to the American lines, determined to deliver one last, vital message.
Donovan, equally battered by the ferocity of the battle, summons every ounce of strength to crawl back to safety. Yet, upon reaching the safety of the lines, both man and dog succumb to the severity of their injuries and collapse. With their lives hanging in the balance, Donovan and Rags, inseparable companions, are granted a rare privilege, to stay together during their urgent evacuation for critical medical care. The commanding officer issues strict orders: “The dog is to receive the same treatment as a soldier.”
As Rags swiftly regains his strength, Donovan's health takes a drastic turn for the worse. His injuries render him unlikely to walk again, and the lingering effects of gas exposure severely damage his lungs. The medical experts recommend his return to America, specifically to Fort Sheridan near Chicago, renowned for its hospital's specialization in treating gas-related cases. It is here that Donovan's greatest hope for recovery resides.
However, their journey home encounters an unforeseen obstacle. While boarding the hospital ship bound for America, a medical officer objects to Rags' presence. Undeterred, a resourceful Colonel, backed by several returning wounded soldiers from the First Division, devises a daring plan: smuggling Rags aboard in his hand luggage. Upon arrival in New York, the dedicated group, known as 'The Rags committee,' meticulously executes a covert mission to escort Rags off the ship and onto a train bound for Fort Sheridan alongside the unconscious Donovan.
At Fort Sheridan hospital, Donovan receives immediate medical care, but despite the best efforts of the medical staff, his condition deteriorates over the ensuing months. Donovan eventually succumbs to his injuries, leaving Rags alone in a foreign land, bereft of his beloved companion.
Heartbroken, Rags finds solace of a kind at Fort Sheridan, where the staff regard him with deep affection and pride, considering him a cherished symbol of resilience. However, despite the warmth of their care, Rags remains a solitary figure, wandering the grounds alone.
But then, one day, the promise of a new chapter unfolds for Rags with the arrival of Major Raymond W. Hardenbergh and his family at Fort Sheridan. It all begins when Rags crosses paths with the Hardenbergh’s two daughters, Helen and Susan. However, upon their initial encounter with the grizzled, one-eyed war veteran canine, both Helen and Susan are overcome with fear and flee, screaming to their father.
Despite their father’s earnest efforts to explain Rags' heroic wartime deeds, the two girls remain frightened and wary.
Over time, the girls’ initial fear melts away as they come to appreciate Rags' gentle nature and playful charm. Their trepidation transforms into genuine affection for the courageous canine. This growing fondness evolves into a heartfelt desire to welcome Rags into their family—a sentiment warmly embraced by both Major Hardenbergh and his wife, Helen. Thus, Rags discovers himself enveloped in the warmth of a loving family and a place he can truly call home.
The story of this war-wounded terrier spreads across the country, leading to newspaper articles and a book dedicated to his remarkable journey.
But, despite the apparent contentment of Rags within the warm embrace of his new loving family, the plucky little dog remains unwavering in his determination to one day be reunited with his true love, Jimmy Donovan.
“No Small Life” is a poignant and gripping true story of loyalty, courage, and the indomitable spirit of a stray dog from the streets of Paris who became “the most photographed dog in America” and a celebrated war hero. The film explores the profound impact of companionship in the face of adversity, reminding us that sometimes, the most extraordinary heroes come from the unlikeliest of places.
We will be taking a very stylistic approach with the visuals and sound design. Our aim will be to create a truly immersive experience, to take the audience into the heads and minds of the tank crew.
To help us recreate the feeling and atmosphere of no-man’s land, we will be drawing heavily from paintings and artwork created by such WW1 painters as Otto Dix, Paul Nash, David Bomberg and cartoonists such as Bruce Bairnsfather. This generation of artists created a revolution in the way modern warfare was depicted in art.
Their images allow us to see the soldiers experience through the eyes of artists. With their strong use of symbolism and meaning, they tell us stories and convey the human experience in that war in a profoundly visceral way.
RE-CREATING NO-MAN'S LAND
We'll be using a number of techniques to bring the "Great War" back to life. We’ll be sourcing a location to re-create no-man's land, but we'll also be making use of special FX techniques such as miniatures, green screen and digital matte paintings.
In our previous feature ALL THAT REMAINS, which was shot just outside Birmingham UK, matte paintings and miniatures were used to create both the historic Nagasaki and the extensive scenes of destruction.