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John Wate takes audiences back to ancient Roman times with Smithsonian series

Directing, for John Wate, is not just about creating a cinematic masterpiece and telling a thought-provoking story, it is about combining a number of trades and leading a dynamic team. As a director, he is the leader of a production, executing his vision while engaging those around him to have visions of their own.

“Directing is leading a team, managing budgets, organizing your process in a way that makes sense logistically and enables your cast and team to do their best. You have to be a motivator and counselor to steer your creatives around you to come up with whatever they are good at, eventually shaping the world you want to create,” he said.

Wate’s outstanding sense of teamwork has allowed many of his productions to become great successes. This renowned Director knows just what it takes to create a captivating film or television series, as evident with his work on Samurai Warrior Queens, Samurai Headhunters, Ninja Shadow Warriors, and most recently, Epic Warrior Women.

The documentary series Epic Warrior Women presents history's most iconic female fighters. Each extraordinary tale of blood, sacrifice and endurance centers on the life of one young woman warrior caught up in the bloody struggles of her time. It features three films discussing various historical groups such as the Amazons, Gladiatrix, and Africa’s Amazons.

The second film, “Gladiatrix”, was a highlight for Wate. Being a fan of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, making a film about female gladiators was a dream come true for the director. Exploring the topic as a documentary, where they were not making things up but researching and showcasing actual evidence for their existence was thrilling for Wate, who enjoyed working with archaeologists and experts in the field to develop the story.

“I think it’s important to give these women their place in history and have them remembered. The premise for the new series of Epic Warrior Women was that there are a lot of untold female heroes in history, but often the glory was reserved for men – which was particularly true in the case of female gladiators, because the aristocrats who wrote the chronicles that shaped our view today on the Roman empire, despised women in the arena. It was against the social order to cheer for a woman with a weapon in her hand, so they didn’t write about it except making fun of it, and emperors tried to ban the games again and again – despite their popularity at the time,” said Wate.

“Gladiatrix” follows Celt warrior-woman Ardala, who is sold into a Mediterranean gladiator school in 2nd Century AD. In the gladiator school, she transforms from rebellious recruit to ruthless fighter wanting to avenge the death of her friend and mentor Zonena.

When creating the film, Wate made sure to be as historically accurate in the depiction of the dramatic scenes as possible. Every single prop was from the correct Roman time period, and rather than shooting on set, they went on-location to Malta, on the same set as the Gladiator film.

Once the props and location were in place, Wate looked to get the best possible cast that could handle the high-action scenes. Each cast member was trained in combat and knew how to swing a heavy sword. The edge of the shield was also used a lot as a weapon and thrusted against the opponent - they pack a punch too, so fighting with these props is not for the faint hearted.

Wate had shot action before, and this experience was pivotal to the success of the film. The actors did not have much time to learn their moves and Wate and his team had to move quickly through their schedule. To stay within the timeline and budget, he discussed the basic flow with the stunt coordinator and on-set he broke it down into a couple of moves to move ahead as fast as possible. The end result is stunning, where the documentary research and interviews is broken up by these true-to-life combat scenes that transport audiences back centuries.

“When you visit ancient Roman sites like Ephesus in Turkey at sunrise or sunset, without any tourists around, or crawl through ancient dungeons, it’s a memory for a lifetime, a real blessing. But also shooting in Malta was a pleasure – the weather, the people, the food, and the subject was thrilling,” he said.

“Gladiatrix” premiered in Malta in 2018. It was the kickoff to the Epic Warrior Women series and had received the MipCom Best Pitch Award. It later went on to appear on the Smithsonian channel and the History Channel in the United Kingdom and has been sold worldwide to 19 international broadcasters.

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