Warrior Champions: Behind the scenes with Craig Renaud

Nov. 10, 2009, 1:53 p.m. (ET)

To say he's always followed in his brothers footsteps isn't entirely accurate. Just two years younger than his brother Brent, Craig Renaud has established himself as a successful documentary film producer.

Craig didn't always have plans to produce films. As an anthropology major at The University of Oregon he developed a strong interest in film making, coincidently while Brent was making documentaries in New York.

Upon graduation Craig began an internship at Downtown Community TV Center, the same company Brent worked for, often crashing at his brother's place.

Craig says his graduation was good timing, "by the time I got to New York he had a job and I began interning at the same place."

After learning the ropes of film production for five years as editors including working with accredited producer John Alpert, their strong interests in journalism, travel and experience led the brothers to begin their own production company, 501 Films.

Working with his brother Craig says, "is all benefit, we're able to think alike and divide and cover different characters. For example with 'Warrior Champions' I would be at one event while he was at another and we are able to cover a lot of ground. We can also edit each other's footage quickly, it's a trust factor working with family."

"Warrior Champions," one of the Renauds' most recent pieces depicts the journey of four Iraq war veterans in their quests to make the United States Paralympic Team. The film, a cinema varieté captures individuals in their true environment.

The Renaud brothers were no strangers to Iraq, having been there previously for a year to film a 10 part documentary series called "Off to War" for Discovery Times. During their stint in Iraq, the brothers established a close relationship with Major Anthony Smith who had lost part of his arm when he was struck by a rocket.

The injury sparked Craig & Brent's interest in recovery and how sports enhance the rehabilitation experience of injured service members.  The brother's eventually found U.S. Paralympics. 

After meeting with John Register, Associate Director of Community & Military programs and a veteran with a disability, and Beth Bourgeois, Associate Director of Public Relations, the brothers were put in touch with 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team hopefuls and injured Iraq war veterans Carlos Leon, Kortney Clemons, Melissa Stockwell, and Scott Winkler.

As each athlete's relationship with Craig & Brent grew, the apprehension of cameras following their lives vanished. "We are low key, no crew, no lights, Melissa and her coach, the late Jimi Flowers were a little bit apprehensive with the camera presence but after her swim at one of the first practices both commented that they forgot the camera was even there and that's what we try to do, disappear and blend in with the environment," says Craig. 

Though the Renaud brothers don't travel with excessive equipment or large crews,  "Warrior Champions" is certainly not lacking in excitement. Instead, it focuses on the real struggles and triumphs endured by the four athletes.

In describing the athletes, Craig says, "they're just incredibly inspirational you don't need to have a disability or be wounded in war to be inspired, it's a testament to the human spirit. One of my favorite moments filming was when Melissa needed to drop 13-17 seconds off her time to make the team, and no one thought she could do it." (Stockwell did qualify for the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team and competed in Beijing.)

Part of what makes their films so great is that fact that Brent and Craig are always right where the action is. Filming in a true war zone is far from an ideal movie set and it attributes to the reality of what the soldiers go through.

"We had been in a combat situation before and had seen with our own eyes injured people and it helped us tell this story with a better perspective. We were able to tell the athletes we had been in combat before and were unlike normal civilian filmmakers."

The Renaud brothers have proved themselves as successful producers through hard work and devotion, something Craig says developed over time. "Our craft was really developed after years of film making and editing other great film makers' projects; the more you take away the process of film making the more real the story feels."

"'Warrior Champions' is different because it's a story of hope and tells you what is possible after war, our other films focus on war and this one is the next chapter for the soldiers. It would be easy to find soldiers who are depressed, and that's an important story to tell, but we were happy to tell a story of hope and recovery and make something that can be an inspiration to all people," says Craig.