San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

From SDSU to the Oscars: alumna Lesley Paterson puts the ‘p’ in perseverance

Paterson co-wrote the screenplay for the award-winning international feature film “All Quiet on the Western Front” and has been inspiring SDSU students with her story
Photo courtesy of Netflix
Teaser trailer for “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

On March 12 San Diego State University watched proudly as alumna Lesley Paterson walked the red carpet of The Academy Awards and was featured among the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees for her co-writing on Netflix hit “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

Attending the Oscars ceremony was yet another momentous accomplishment for Paterson, who had already won a prestigious British BAFTA award. Although she narrowly missed out on winning the screenplay Oscar this time, she saw her brainchild “All Quiet” win four other Oscars. 

Paterson, who completed her masters degree at SDSU’s School of Theatre, Television, and Film in 2005, returned to campus on March 20 to share her success story with students and the general public.

Paterson has always had a fiery determination. Growing up in Scotland, she was an avid triathlete, and her original goal was not the bright lights of Hollywood, but instead the Olympic Games. 

After her dreams of a gold medal fell through, she was completely lost. When her husband Simon Marshall, also a contributor to the screenplay, was offered a professor job at SDSU she was raring to start afresh.

“I felt like a big old failure,” Paterson said. “Moving out here to California was like shedding a skin because I was always known as an athlete before.”

Underneath the Lycra, Paterson knew she had a creative soul, and she credits her time as a student at SDSU for bringing this artistic side out and reigniting her drive and tenacity.

“I’ve always believed that studying is a way to regain a passion,” Paterson said. “I wanted to rekindle my passion for life because I had lost it, and it was Randy Reinholz’s (Acting for Camera) class that did that. It really sparked me to realize that film was where I was meant to be.”

Professor Randy Reinholz, a theater teacher at SDSU, is touched by Paterson’s gratitude.

“As a professor, I think you just hope you make a difference in anybody’s life and that they care,” Reinholz said. “When you’re young you hope to be at the center of things, but as you get further along in your career you hope to give access to someone else.”

As a triathlete, Paterson’s cycling skills are impeccable, but the road from the halls of SDSU to Hollywood was no easy ride.  

After struggling to make it as an actress, Paterson realized that her talents lay behind the camera. When the rights to “All Quiet on the Western Front,” a book she adored studying at school, were up for option she grabbed the opportunity to write the screenplay.

Unbeknown to her, this quest to tell an anti-war story from a German viewpoint would turn into a 16-year-long battle to get the film made, with multiple rejections and barriers along the way. 

One of the most challenging hurdles was the yearly $10,000 fee to re-option the book rights. Fortunately for Paterson, she had fallen back in love with triathlon and used her competition winnings to keep the money flowing, even racing on a broken shoulder at the 2015 Costa Rica XTERRA triathlon to re-secure the rights.

“I love to feel emotion and that fueled me to keep going, whether it was watching a film or reading another trench diary to remember why this story is important to tell,” Paterson said.

Now a five-time world champion triathlete and an acclaimed Hollywood screenwriter, her toil has paid off. With anecdotes such as flirting with Austin Butler, accidentally blocking Daniel Radcliffe’s toilet and getting bear-hugged by Kate Winslet at the Oscars, she has now entered the promised land of Hollywood. 

For Tom Stiel, a third-year film production major, Paterson’s story provides him hope for his future career.

“I thought it was inspiring how they worked on the film for 16 years and persevered even though there were times it didn’t look like it was going to get made. As a film student, sometimes you feel like your work isn’t really taking you anywhere and it’s a reminder that it can work out,” Stiel said.

Abigail Segal, also a third-year film production major, shared a similar sentiment.

“It’s given me a lot of hope and inspiration. I have a lot of stories that I would like to tell, and I just hope that I’ll be able to tell them one day. I’m so glad that she was able to do that first,” Segal said.

 When giving advice to those trying to break into the industry, Paterson adopts the same go-getter attitude that got her where she is today.

 “You have to do something because doing nothing is gonna get you nowhere,” Paterson said. “Doing something is going to get you somewhere, you’re not quite sure where but it’s going to take that first step.”

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San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913
From SDSU to the Oscars: alumna Lesley Paterson puts the ‘p’ in perseverance