Just a few moments ago, I heard back from Donald Eaton, who served as First Assistant Director for Gods and Generals, and whom I interviewed the other day. He sent me a rather large follow-up response to our interview, throwing some more information our way about what went on behind the scenes, as well as his works on some Civil War books of his own. Unbeknownst to me, he is actually an accomplished author, as well as having more than thirty years in the film and television industry. He received a Google Alert on his computer when the link to our interview went up, which prompted him to tell me, “I had no idea how extensive [your blog] was. Congratulations on your efforts and hard work”, as well as send the following message. He invited me to share it with all of you if I wanted, and I thought it was very interesting, so here it is. The rest of this article is his words, even though presented in plain text—I just did not want to italicize something that long. Please enjoy, because it is some really good stuff!
From Donald Eaton:
I would like to take a moment to share one or two other things about G&G, if I may. You can feel free to add this to your blog or not. First, a little back-story: Some time ago I was approached by a ‘retired’ producer, Allan Schwartz, who at one time was S.V.P of television production at Fox. He had an old treatment about the last four months of the Civil War (Carolina Campaign) and wanted to know if I would be willing to look at it and perhaps rewrite it. I read it and it was horrible. I spent a month researching it and discovered that almost everything in it was inaccurate or just plain WRONG. I told him that if he wanted me to rewrite it, I would have to start from scratch, beginning with the title, which I changed to a paraphrase of a Sherman quote: TILL THEY BEG FOR MERCY. Well, a few months and 147 pages later, I had a treatment for a major TV / Cable mini-series.
Allan and I went to L.A. where he still has many powerful friends in the business and we pitched it to a number of Agents, Producers, and Executives. All were very generous with their time and advice. They all agreed that the material was well-constructed and compelling. The problem was that all felt that it would be impossible to interest a studio or cable company in it, based solely on a ‘treatment’. Allan and I had a breakfast meeting with two of his good friends, Bob Papasian and Jim Hirsch. Bob was Exec. Producer on John Jakes’ TV series, NORTH AND SOUTH II and both Bob and Jim were Exec. Producers on HBO’s great series, ROME. They suggested that the best way in was for me to write the book. They said if Allan and I could get a show-runner interested, they would be willing to produce it. So I wrote the book. In fact, the story is so big, it needed more than one book. It needed four! O.K. So by now, I’ve finished the second volume called A CATHEDRAL IN HELL. I am now writing the 3RD, DESPERATE BATTLE and the last volume, UNION will come early next year. Here’s the link to my publishing page if you’d like to look at the first two.
Now, what does that have to do with G&G? Good question. You see, Greg, I try to write in a ‘visual’ style. (I was trained as a photographer when I was at Brooks Institute). I realized that there are very few people who actually know what a Civil War battle was really like: Crews who worked on well-made films, like Gettysburg, Glory and a few others and the reenactors who also worked on those movies. Not, to put down ‘reenactments’, I’ve been to some, of course, but they just cannot compare to what we did, heard and saw on the set. One example from G&G: This was my favorite scene and I marched up the hill, General’s hat on my head and saber in my hand, (I swear!) leading those men from off camera while calling down the Rebel artillery fire at the same time! It was great. I’m sure you remember it.
I don’t want to give the impression that it was just me. The Director, the DP, all the coordinators worked like hell to get it right. And the reenactors really got behind it and were superb. It was a massive joint effort that worked perfectly. The important thing, for me, was that I personally experienced the battle…up close and in it! …Minus the FEAR, of course, but there are other sources to draw on for that. So, when I write a battle scene, I can see it, hear it and smell it in my mind. For example from A CATHEDRAL IN HELL:
The attack was so sudden and brutal that the Federals had no idea what to do. Bullets ripped through tent flies, through woolen blankets and cotton shirts, through flesh and bone! Sleeping soldiers were dead before they even had a chance to wake up!
Butler came down with his men, over a thousand riders on a thousand horses. Wheeler came across with his ‘thousand’, charging directly into the camp. Federals scattered in utter panic. Some ran for the cover of the wagons or the odd farm shed or barn. Some found their weapons and stood their ground, only to be cut down by gunfire or sabers. Some ran for their horses. Some ran for the trees or the edge of the swamp. Some called and looked for their commanders in the melée. Some took it upon themselves to dig in and resist and some simply put their hands up and surrendered.
The Confederate prisoners, hearing the Rebel yell and seeing the cut of their brother cavalrymen, burst through their pen railings as their guards fled into the fog. “Them’s Wheeler’s boys, you Yankee bastards! Better run fer yer lives!” And the Yankees did.
Some of the prisoners picked up weapons or even captured saddled horses to join the fight, but in the swirling dawn mist, it was easy for these men to be mistaken for Federals and cut down by their own friendly fire.
It was havoc. It was brutal chaos. It was a whirlwind of lead, steel and flaming metal. Men shot at distant shadows, while others fought hand-to-hand and face-to-face! Four thousand men, three thousand horses, all charging, fighting and firing in the fog, all in an easily sloping field not much larger than a two acre truck garden.
This is just a sample of the pre-dawn ‘skirmish’ at Monroe’s Crossroads, North Carolina, March 10, 1865, but I think it gives you an idea. Working on the Battle scenes on G&G was a unique experience and I am certain that my reenactor friends who were also there would agree.
One other thing: I read with interest your interview with J.D. Petruzzi, whom I mentioned in answer to your final question. J.D. seems like a genuinely nice person, as well as an established Civil War authority, especially in cavalry, as I understand. Even though we sparred a bit about the To Appomattox thing, I would love to sit and share a nice plate of his homemade meatballs while discussing Caesar’s real strategy at the battle of Pharsalus, Aug. 9, 48 B.C. (We seem to share a mutual interest in Roman history as well and, as we are ‘friends’ on Facebook, I think I even wrote to him once in Latin!…Don’t ask why. I just do stuff like that.)
Anyway, why was I so interested in the To Appomattox series? At the time I heard about it, my proposed ‘series’ was still in the exploration stage. My feeling was that TILL THEY BEG should air in January, February, March and April of 2015, to coincide exactly with the 150th anniversary of the events of those months at the end of the Civil War. Assuming a year and a half of prepping, shooting and editing, that meant that we would have to be starting sometime in 2013. From a strictly ‘production’ point of view, I wanted to find out what the timeline was for SHOOTING the To Appomattox show, because I wanted to avoid any conflict in production resources. After all, there are only so many cannons, muskets, horses etc. That’s when I started to call the film boards of the states their website said had been chosen for filming. I knew several of the board directors because I had done a number of films in Virginia, N.C., S.C., and Maryland. Well, I won’t re-chew my cabbage here, but I got a lot of blanks. Anyway, J.D. fielded my questions politely and as best he could and I said I would take him at his word, which I did.
I truly hope their series is successful…but they better get going on it!…because the more major TV / FILM events there are about the Civil War in the upcoming few years of the anniversary, the better it is for other projects due to the public interest generated. Git ‘er done, Boys! Git ‘er done!
Well, Greg, I bent yer ear pretty good, I reckon. Sorry, but you seem interested in all aspects of, not just G&G, but the genre. (Sorry I don’t know anything about Hockey. I was a rugby player. A little ‘different’ I think…Rougher!) Wish me luck and if you get a chance, check out the novels on my page. I think you might enjoy them. They are of course factual, based on a real timeline with mostly authentic characters, especially Sherman and Kilpatrick. I wish you continued success in your career. Shucks! I just realized…I’ve got a son your age! Yikes!
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