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SDSU grad Lesley Paterson receives Oscar nomination

Lesley Paterson is shown in this undated image.
Lesley Paterson
Lesley Paterson is shown in this undated image. Paterson is a world champion triathlete and now an Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay for her work on "All Quiet on the Western Front."

Two weeks ago San Diego State University (SDSU) graduate Lesley Paterson heard her name read as an Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay for "All Quiet on the Western Front."

"It's incredible," Paterson said. "I can't quite believe it. I keep sort of pinching myself and almost like saying it under my breath. It really is sort of (the) stuff of dreams, to be honest."


But when she began the project 16 years ago, she did believe it could be an Oscar-worthy film.

"I have an internal confidence. I'm not quite sure where it comes from," Paterson said. "I think I've had it since birth, and you can see that in my sporting career as well. And it's not an arrogance — I just have this unbridled optimism. So I think I just always willed this into existence."

"All Quiet on the Western Front" is based on Erich Maria Remarque's classic 1929 novel of the same name. The book previously inspired a 1930 Oscar-winning film and 1979 TV movie.

Paterson fell in love with the novel when she read it in school because it did not fall into the usual tropes of a war story.

In this undated film still, Felix Kammerer stars as Paul Bäumer in "All Quiet on the Western Front."

"It's a very different type of anti-war film because there is no hero," Paterson said. "It is so tragic. It hits you and it stays with you for days."

But Paterson was shocked to discover that the rights to the novel were available so she and her writing partner Ian Stokell optioned them.

An undated film still from "All Quiet on the Western Front." For this film, Lesley Paterson received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

And that is the difference between writing an original script versus an adapted screenplay. To adapt another work, you generally need to option the rights. If you do not get the film made immediately then you have to renew that option every year.

"And it's not cheap," Paterson said. "It's several thousands of dollars every year or every time you have to renew it, not to mention the legal fees that come with securing it. I was a professional triathlete and obviously (it's) a small sport. So endorsements come, $500 here, $500 there. So ultimately, as I started to do very well in the sport, then I got prize money and they would come in lump sums. So that proved to be a great way of actually supporting the payment of these options."

When payment was due back in 2016, five-time world champion Paterson entered a competition in Costa Rica confident she could win prize money.

Lesley Paterson
This undated photo shows Lesley Paterson as a child playing rugby. Lesley Paterson says on her Braveheart Coaching website: "While growing up, my ‘thing’ was rugby. I loved to get dirty and I loved to fight boys. Being the only gal outta 250 boys in the squad, I learned pretty quickly how to take care of myself!" That attitude has helped her as a filmmaker as well.

"And then the day before, I broke my shoulder," Paterson said. "So I had a heart to heart with my husband and figured out that we could probably have a bash at me just trying to get through the swim with one arm. And my biking and running was so strong, maybe, just maybe, I could make some prize money to at least cover our expenses and hopefully earn something towards the payment. And lo and behold, I won the damn thing. So it was definitely an exercise in perseverance."

Her perseverance as an athlete has served her well as a filmmaker. While the Oscar nomination did have a sort of overnight impact on her career, it has been a long road to that success.

Part of the journey involved attending SDSU to receive her master's degree in theater and film.

"Going back to study the second time was a really beautiful thing because I think you can really just indulge in it," Paterson said. "All of my professors were incredibly passionate, and that passion really resonated with me, and it set me on this path to want to do film. And I loved it, absolutely loved it. So I'm still in touch with a bunch of my professors, and in fact, I'm meeting with Kathleen Kennedy (of LucasFilm) who is an SDSU alum."

The SDSU connection may have helped get that meeting but the Oscar nomination obviously raised her visibility.

"It's massive," Paterson said. "Ultimately, when it comes to financing a film, packaging a film, getting something off the ground, then all of the elements that are attached to that project have a worth. And if you have an Oscar nomination or you're an Oscar winner, that adds to the worth of the package. So that's why they're more excited to want to talk to you."

You can watch the 95th Academy Awards live on March 12 on ABC to see if Paterson wins. She was nominated along with her co-writers Ian Stokell and Edward Berger, who also directed the film and was key in translating it into German. Paterson is also an executive producer on the film, which has a total of nine nominations.

All Quiet on the Western Front | Official Trailer | Netflix

"All Quiet on the Western Front" is currently streaming on Netflix but can be seen on the big screen at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas, Reading Cinemas Town Square and Angelika Film Center Carmel Mountain. The film serves up a heartbreakingly powerful statement against war. I urge you to pair watching the film with the Peter Jackson documentary on World War I, "They Shall Not Grow Old."