30 years in the making, Travolta stars in Iain Softley's adaptation of 'The Shepherd' on Disney+

ByJennifer Matarese OTRC logo
Thursday, November 30, 2023
Iain Softley adapts novella The Shepherd into short film for Disney
Jennifer Matarese interviews Iain Softley about working with John Travolta on his adaptation of "The Shepherd" for Disney+.

NEW YORK -- How about a Christmas ghost story? "The Shepherd" is based on the novella by the acclaimed author Frederick Forsyth.

Ben Radcliffe plays a young RAF pilot flying home across the North Sea on Christmas Eve.

Although things do not go as planned. Instead of an easy flight on a nice, clear night, his radio and electric power cut out, leaving him stranded and running on limited fuel.

He eventually makes peace with his seemingly eventual death but prays for a miracle.

A mysterious good Samaritan appears above the fog below him and the story takes an unexpected turn.

"The Shepherd" played by John Travolta, helps bring the young pilot to safety, but is all as it seems?

Writer and Director Iain Softley said that early in the process after he had read the short story, one of the producers was contacted by John Travolta's agent.

"He said John had optioned this book 30 years ago with the idea of playing the young pilot," Softley said.

They brought him in as an executive producer, but that wasn't all.

"It just became inevitable really that he should play the title role of 'The Shepherd,'" Softley said. "He has such knowledge of aviation that he was able to help me beyond his role and make suggestions. And he was really very pleased with the end result which is a relief to me."

Radcliffe beat out 150 other actors for the role of the younger pilot. "Right from the beginning I had my eye on Ben," Softley said. "He's really the guy I had in my mind when I was adapting the story."

Softley said it was a challenge to get all of the flying shots and to keep everything as historically accurate as possible.

There is just one vampire in flying condition in the northern hemisphere in Norway. He got the Norwegians who fly the plane to bring it to Norfolk in the UK and fly it and keep it at an authentic airfield. But there was a problem, the runway was too short.

They had cockpits, and the flying sequences, but Softley said he thought it was important to see the whole plane for the landing.

"The art department did the most amazing thing of finding a rusty wing here, an undercarriage there, scouring barns and sheds all over the country, and they created a perfect replica of the plane," he said.

So using the original Vampire, the recreation, and CGI, they were able to pull it off.

You can stream "The Shepherd" on Disney+ starting December 1.