By Philip Cozzolino-Narragansett Times- The voice that coached the New England Patriots to a record-breaking five Superbowl championships will lend itself to other patriots this Memorial Day, as Pats’ head coach Bill Belichick has agreed to narrate the upcoming WWII Foundation documentary, ‘D-Day: Over Normandy.’ The film will primarily use contemporary footage captured on drone cameras of the Normandy beaches and battlesites coupled with interviews with veterans from those battles and archival footage to present a new perspective of the historic landings which began on June 6, 1944.
For Tim Gray, a native of Kingston, chairman of the Kingston-based WWII Foundation and writer, producer and director of all of the Foundation’s documentaries including ‘D-Day: Over Normandy,’ casting Belichick to narrate was the result of a relationship with the NFL coach which started over a decade ago.
“We sent [Belichick] our first film that we did in 2006 and after that it kind of became a tradition that before we released any documentary, we would send him a copy,” said Gray. “He’s just somebody we like to consider, because of his father who served in WWII and because he grew up at the United States Naval Academy where his father coached, he’s just somebody who always had a strong interest in military history and I knew that and that’s the reason I reached out.”
“He’s been a supporter of what we’ve done, either by making a donation or reviewing films or attending events that we’ve had,” Gray continued. “He’s been pretty consistent with his support of our mission.”
Belichick echoed this sentiment, stating that his father’s service in WWII and his growing up at The Naval Academy in Maryland had helped him understand the importance of preserving the memory of WWII veterans.
“Every day of my childhood, I was immersed in the tradition of the United States Navy,” said Belichick. “I was, and remain, inspired by their discipline, teamwork and courage, especially the sailors who fought on D-Day and in the Pacific theater, where the U.S. Pacific Fleet sacrificed so much for ultimate victory. The Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines made one heck of a team in World War II,”
Gray said Belichick instantly agreed to the offer to do the voiceover.
“When I asked him to do it a year ago, he said ‘yes’ right away,” continued Gray. “We had to kind of keep it a secret because he was involved in the football season and we didn’t want to take away his focus. He’s one of those guys who always gets back to me, even though in terms of his day job he’s probably one of busiest guys on the planet. But he always takes the time to send notes reviewing the latest film or he’ll send a Christmas card. It’s an interesting relationship that we have but is built upon honoring the men and women who won the war.”
Since 2006, Gray and The WWII Foundation have gone on to create 18 documentaries studying different aspects of the war, and Gray has been honored with five Regional Emmy Awards in the New England and Washington, DC categories, along with three Indie International Film Fest awards and the American Public Television’s National Programming Excellence Award. ‘D-Day: Over Normandy,’ represents a new approach for Gray, his production company, Tim Gray Media, and The WWII Foundation, by employing the use of drone footage throughout the film.
“We shoot a lot of different types of documentaries in Normandy,” said Gray. “This one was different than anything we had done before because all of the battlefield and beach locations were shot by drone.”
“There are a lot of films on D-Day, so you’re always asking yourself how to do something that’s already been done,” continued Gray. “No one has done an all-drone film of Normandy, where you’re comparing what it was like then to today from a drone perspective and then interviewing veterans from each area where you filmed with the drone camera to bring home the story. It will be a view of Normandy and D-Day that people haven’t seen before.”
To accomplish their vision of the film, Gray and company hired one of France’s top drone companies to sweep the Normandy landscapes with cameras rolling, instructing the company with the kind of material and compositions the filmmakers were looking for beforehand.
“We took the best of what they have and what they have is pretty spectacular,” said Gray. “We filmed at sunrise, we filmed at sunset, we tried to take advantage of the beauty of the area and what’s left there – such as all of the German bunkers and everything else.”
The film will also use archival footage and interviews with veterans who fought at the exact spots captured by the drone cameras and intercut the footage to bring viewers a unique understanding of D-Day.
“It’s something different, it hasn’t really been done,” said Gray. “We’re always pushing to do things that haven’t been done before.”
While Gray concedes that pushing the medium is something he and the Foundation always try to do, the idea behind each film stays the same – shining a spotlight on the veterans and their stories.
“At the core of what we do is telling the stories and hearing the veterans tell their stories,” he said. “If we can present it in a different light than has been presented in the past, we’re all for doing that, but we don’t want to take away from the stories of those who were there because that’s the most important thing.”
In keeping in line with a different approach to the making of the film in order to communicate a fresh perspective to the audience, Gray thought the casting of Belichick to provide narration over the aerial and archival footage was different and fitting.
“Bill has two voices,” he said. “He’s got the voice where he’s dealing with the media, which I understand. Then there’s the other side of it which is him being enthusiastic about what he’s doing.”
Reception to the Belichick selection has been nothing short of ‘incredible,’ says Gray. Since the announcement of Belichick’s participation in the film, which came after the Patriots’ historic comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Superbowl LI, outlets such as the NFL Network, ESPN, USA Today and other organizations across the globe have picked up on the story and written about the film.
“D-Day: Over Normany” will premiere on PBS stations around the country near Memorial Day.