It was a season of Premier League football like none other. Apart from the fact that the footballing world came to a halt in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, history was also made with Liverpool lifting the trophy after 30 years. To renowned British documentarian and filmmaker James Erskine, if there was any season Liverpool could have won the Premier League trophy, it was this one.
"We started filming at the beginning of the season," Erskine speaks to Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview on his documentary based on Liverpool's historic title-winning season titled 'The End of the Storm'.
"Of course, we didn't know for certain that it would be the title-winning season but there was a lot of optimism," he adds.
After the Champions League title win in 2019, there was faith among Liverpool fans and the management that they could win the Premier League trophy. Around the same time, a documentary titled 'This is Football' was released on Amazon and it caught the attention of the English club.
"The first episode of 'This is Football' directed by me is about Liverpool fans in Rwanda. It is an exploration of what football means to people and what being a fan means. It was seen by many people in the club, including Jurgen (Klopp) and the President. So they invited me after that," Erskine revealed.
The club wanted the filmmaker to make a film centered on how Liverpool connects with fans across the world. Erskine told the club management that the film would be best to do during a title-winning run. The project kicked off, but with the seasons' result still uncertain, Erskine's crew was cautious at the start.
"We were very cautious at the beginning on how we move forwards. By Christmas, it became pretty evident that Liverpool were in a very strong position, and we were really confident that they would win. We committed most of our filming later into the schedule," the filmmaker explains.
But by the 2019 Christmas, no one had predicted the events that will take place in the coming months. "Of course, we didn't factor in coronavirus at that point," Erskine says.
In March 2020, with the rising cases of coronavirus pandemic in England, the Premier League tournament was forced to shut down. Liverpool had a massive lead over the remaining clubs, so the result was certain. But there were fears among fans that the pandemic might lead to the cancellation of the season. But Erskine believed that the season would be completed one way or the other.
"We were concerned if the season ended without Liverpool winning, then we may have to find a different story to tell. But honestly, I always felt that the season would come to an end and they would come back in some shape or form," he says.
"Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have been more worried about the season being cancelled," Erskine adds.
The filming during the pandemic was not an easy task. Apart from the safety of the crew, there were also concerns about exposing the footballers to the virus. A lot of precautions needed to be taken to ensure the health safety of everyone involved, which made it, in Erskine's own words, 'a nightmare'.
"Filming during the pandemic was a nightmare, to be honest. When you are dealing with footballers worth hundreds of millions of dollars, spending time with the film crew is a risky business," he says.
"It wouldn't serve them or serve us if we jeopardise their season by giving someone like Sadio Mane covid. So, we obviously had to be very cautious," he says.
Erskine had to use more local crews to shoot international fans of the club in the post-Covid world. His team also had to work remotely and via video conferences for editing and post-production of the film.
"It was really challenging during Covid making a film about athletes when they were in a bubble, not only of their own choosing, or the club's choosing but Premier League's choosing," he says.
One of the highlights of the film is the fans from multiple nationalities who speak about their passion for Liverpool Football Club. There are families from India, the Middle-East, Egypt, Africa, and numerous other parts of the world. But the story of one fan from Wuhan, would perhaps, leave the largest impact on the audiences' minds.
It was a tricky task for the crew to film the scenes in Wuhan, and they had to wait for the lockdown to be removed in the city to get it done. But for Erskine, it was an important aspect of the story he was trying to tell.
"I felt that if you could get a long-standing fan of Liverpool that really cared about the club in Wuhan that has experienced both the season and the effects of coronavirus in his city, I felt the emotional resonance of that would be strong for everyone," he says.
Erskine believes his documentary is not just about the football club. He wished to bring the personalities of the people behind the club - the manager, the players, and the fans. The filmmaker believes he has achieved the same with 'The End of the Storm'.
"I am glad we got to make a documentary where we got to really know and understand people behind the club. It may sound contradictory, but it would have been possible to make a boring, run-of-the-mill film out of Liverpool season. We have all seen football highlights, after all," he says.
"But getting to know the sense of personality and the person Klopp is, the players are, and what the club means to fans - it was really important and different," Erskine signed off.