Follow-Up From Donald Eaton After our Interview

From Eaton: “That’s me next to Maxwell on his right. Our DP, Keys, is on his left. I think you probably recognize most of these other Rebels!”

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!

End of Message

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Donald, you’re so right about CW related productions – the more the better! I’m amazed that here we’re in the 2nd year of the sesqi, and there’s hardly been anything on TV or otherwise. And how much have you seen on the War of 1812?? Nearly nothing. Let’s hope that it all gears up soon so our children will learn, get interested, and carry on the work of remembering our past.

    1. Gettysbuff says:

      “The more the better”? Oh ok, so long as those programs are nothing like The Scott Brothers’ “Gettysburg” or 3net’s “Fields of Valor”, eh, JD? Purleese. You can’t have it both ways so it’s finally time to decide what’s more important. Next time we see some Civil War programming my advice to you would be to not moan incessantly about miniscule inaccuracies like uniform details, etc that only a geeky hardcore reenactor would be upset by, and just be grateful that you are viewing a Civil War show (as there are “hardly any on TV” – your words not mine). Otherwise you end up making comments like the one above and you come across as quite the hypocrite. You would have done better to insert the word “accurate” somewhere in your comment to avoid misinterpretation. Thank you.

      1. When it came to History’s “Gettysburg”, I thought JD’s criticisms were more than valid, given the actual network it was airing on. We expected much better of them, and for that reason, many people (myself included) wrote scathing reviews of it. When it comes to a DOCUMENTARY, there can be no attacks on nit-picking and those who do it, because it is presented as educational. Documentaries and educational programs are not supposed to have an artistic/entertainment license, they are supposed to be fact. Now feature films, that’s a different story, but we are not dealing with that here. I did not see “Fields of Valor” so I cannot comment. All I know is, with the plethora of information on the Civil War out there, it should be impossible for a network as esteemed as theirs to make so many egregious errors.

      2. Gettysbuff says:

        You’re missing the point Greg. We’re not talking about accuracy here, but lack of Civil War programming. As i said, you can’t have it both ways. One cannot complain about not enough Civil War shows on TV and then complain when one DOES appear that isn’t entirely accurate. Makes one sound like a grumpy old man. As JD said, he hoped that “Children will get interested” – Well i know SEVERAL children that got into the Civil War through the History Channel’s ‘Gettysburg’ – Proof that one shouldn’t overly lambast shows like these. Things don’t always have to be 100% factual to get people interested, they should be ENTERTAINING first. Most uneducated people (especially kids since we’re on the subject of children) won’t notice any slight errors so it doesn’t matter. What matters most is that whatever show they see gets them interested IN THE FIRST PLACE because that particular show was ENTERTAINING. Period. Shows like ‘Gettysburg’ were not made for people like you or JD, and the sooner you all realize that the better. I think that people are in danger of giving themselves a bad name and coming across as elitists when bashing shows like these. As i’ve said in the past, NO new programming on the Civil War is a bad thing. How can it be? If it gets people interested then GREAT, it’s done its job! It’s time you guys realized this, seriously. If i can see YOUR points (and i do, i really REALLY do) about accuracy, then you should extend the same respect for me. And before you say “Hold on a minute, i thought this guy said accuracy doesn’t matter, how can he see our point!!!???” then i will explain. I do agree that accuracy matters, but it is not important as ENTERTAINMENT when it comes to attracting new fans (especially kids) who know very little about the intricate details of (for example) buttons on uniforms, etc, etc, etc. blah blah, waffle, drone. People like that DO NOT CARE about such geeky attention to details. If a show has accuracy AND entertainment, then great. But if the show is accurate but UNENTERTAINING, then this will do little to attract interest and only please existing Civil War Obsessives – What do you not understand about this? It’s pretty simple and nobody can argue that an unentertaining show (not just history ones) would get somebody hooked on any particular subject just because that particular show is accurate (because uneducated people wouldn’t NOTICE the accuracies – now will you PLEASE see what i’m saying? Jeez!!) The bottom line is, it’s fine for you to be upset over shows that you PERSONALLY DON’T LIKE, because you’re entitled not to like them because you know better. BUT, you CANNOT say that shows like these do more harm than good and should not have been aired in the first place. That comes across as selfish and shows lack of understanding of what these shows do to people who ARE NOT like you. I live in Gettysburg, do either you or JD? I think not. Therefore i meet visitors on a daily basis in and around town and do you realize how many people came to visit for THE FIRST TIME after seeing History’s ‘Gettysburg’ last year? Well i do and i can tell you that i lost count after about the 100th person i spoke to. But you guys STILL insist that shows like these are abominations and should never have been allowed to air? Seriously guys, time to open your eyes and listen to someone else’s opinion. You might be educated on the minutae of CW soldiers and their life, but you sure as hell don’t seem to have a clue about the average everyman with little to no interest in the war in today’s society. Please take advice from somebody who does. These people develop an interest in the war from shows like ‘Gettysburg’…and some of those people will decide to visit…and then some of those people who visit will maybe hire a guide or whatever…and then those people will learn THE TRUTH, and therefore THE ACCURACIES. See what happened there? Entertainment first, accuracy will follow. People who know little or nothing about the war DO NOT tune into a show on the war to find out all the intricate details. Period. They will come later as they become more interested. Do i need to hammer this point across any more or will you finally see what i’m saying here, for the last time? And please don’t repeat yourself about how “documentaries should be factual” as i’m not disagreeing with that. I just want an intelligent response (finally) to what i’ve said about shows like these attracting interest as i have proved, and about how you cannot wish for shows like these to be removed from the air because they don’t satisfy YOU. Is that too much to ask, really? Just think about that for one minute please, and also about JD’s hypocritical comment and my response………………………………………………….ok, ready?

      3. Hey, Gettysbuff – take a chill pill. OK, “accurate” programming, okay? Sorry I don’t live up to your expectations – but I suspect no one else does either.

      4. Gettysbuff says:

        Appreciate it, JD. Thanks.

        I AM chilled, I just find it very depressing that certain people imply that if a tv show isn’t as accurate as they want it to be, then they’d rather it not exist. So ask yourself these questions – would you be happy with absolutely NO Civil War shows on TV if they can’t “get it right”? Would you be happy to see the Civil War forgotten in certain individuals minds due to lack of such programming? Would you happy to see the Civil War failing to reach a wider (and younger) audience due to the absence of such programming?

        I think you’ll find that i’m not the one who has problems with my expectations not being met, it is quite clear that these tv shows do not live up to YOUR expectations. I’m just glad you’re not some big Media Exec in charge of what goes on tv and what doesn’t. What a sad day that would be if you were.

    2. I agree completely and continued to be shocked by the public’s ignorance of our own history, even by people who are well educated. Ask one of your friends to name three Revolutionary War Generals, from either side. (Duh!). TV and film can play a great service here with series like BAND OF BROTHERS or THE PACIFIC. But it can also fill up unquestioning minds with all sorts of crap. History is always subjective. One man’s ‘Freedon fighter’ is another man’s terrorist, but if the ‘narrative’ andheres to the known and accepted ‘facts’, then the persentation is always enlightening and worthwhile.

      I know your team is working on such a project. So am I and my partner Allan Schwartz. When I was in L.A. pitching it a year or so ago, I was talking to some producers and I told them two things: Band of Brothers was about Easy Company and the invasion of France. Now, those boys are ‘our’ grandfathers. IF, when little, one of those boys sat on his own Grandfather’s knee, he could have hear the old man tell him all about the Battle of Gettysburg! Isn’t that amazing!

      The other thing is this: Suppose you want to go and see a hit movie. You get there early and have to stand in line to by tickets, but you are the first one there. Before the window opens, 99 more people line up behind you. 100 people might seem like a lot, but it’s reall equivalent to the first six or seven rows of a medium size church. Well, let’s say that the guy behind you is dressed like your father. AND the guy behind him is dressed like ‘his’ father…all the way back. Well, the guy at the end will be wearing a toga and shouting ‘AVE CAESARE!’

      Only three years to go for the 150th. Let’s hope we see more good history on TV about the CW, 1812, (Especially the naval battles, my favorite.)


  2. Gettysbuff, I’ve had a few people ask me why you’re so jealous? Or maybe you just dislike a certain category of folks. Instead of hiding behind a fake name, why don’t post your real name and we can have a real discussion? Your immaturity is difficult to deal with, so until then I just won’t. You know nothing about me, yet you criticize every syllable I type. One reader just emailed me that it might do you a lot of good to finally get out of your parent’s basement and into the sunshine for a while. I don’t know, but if that applies to you it might not be a bad idea. Until then, enjoy… whatever it is you do.

    1. Gettysbuff says:

      Um, for what reason would i be jealous? I think that you like to think that because you think so very highly of yourself (for example, let me remind you about that comment you made where you BOASTED about having a whole LIBRARY in your house. Not pompous at all, right? Wrong.) I would go back and ask those people (if they are indeed real and not fabrications of your ego) what makes them think i’m jealous from what i have said thus far, because i believe i have given no indication of that and they and you know NOTHING about me….Where as I have read all of your books, spoken to people who know you (and have actually spoken to you PERSONALLY on a few occasions), read your blog and visit your facebook page regularly. So i think that makes me just a little bit more qualified to comment upon you than anybody is upon me? ‘Kay?

      I am not jealous, I LIVE in Gettysburg, unlike you. I am very happy with my life. I have a beautiful wife and baby girl and i have a FANTASTIC job in tourism where i get to educate people on the battle EVERY SINGLE DAY OF MY LIFE. (and i make it FACTUAL AND ENTERTAINING). ‘Kay? Now that’s all i’m prepared to say right now, this is the internet and i have the right to remain anonymous. I don’t have anything to hide, it is just my choice and right whether i want to reveal my name or not. If i was just revealing my name ONLY TO YOU, then fine. But this is a public forum and anyone could view my name and what i write. Now you seem like an intelligent guy, surely i don’t need to explain why i don’t want THE WORLD knowing who i am.

      For the last time, i don’t like the way you come across as “i’m so special” because you have written a few books. Big woop. It doesn’t make you better or more knowlegeable than anyone else, including me. Neither does having a library, especially when you BOAST about having said library. Good for you, i’m happy with what good fortune you have had. Seriously. I wouldn’t want that taken away from you. You’ve worked very hard at your studies and you’re well-respected because of that – Just don’t get too big of a head because nobody likes that. And the way you bash shows like “Gettysburg” implies that you are really narrow-minded and i like that even less about you, not that you care, and i don’t expect you too either. And the fact that you consistently avoid answering my questions when i present a fair and intelligent argument shows how ignorant you are too. It’s probably because you’re losing the argument and there’s no way you can win. Just please answer my questions like i asked you to do and prove me wrong as i’m sure you’re just ITCHING to do now.

      1. Wow. You ascribe a lot of things to me that simply aren’t true – as many folks have said, that definitely shows your true attitude. For some reason you just despise authors or historians or… just me in particular. Just as you personally insulted me when you posted on the series Facebook page under a fake profile (yes, your ISP was traced and it matches this one you use to post here as well as on my own blog). Well, you’ll have to deal with it, and I’m sure Greg is tired of this silliness playing out on his blog. Now, I’m going to do what, I’m told, annoys folks like you – I’m going to ingnore you. But that’s just what pompous, “I’m so special” authors like myself do, right?
        Have a good life.

      2. Gettysbuff says:

        OK, JD, so you didn’t boast about having a library then? Are you denying that? Obviously i seem to remember that conversation better than you do. That’s the only thing i have really said about you, and that is 100% true. The other things i have said about you are MY OPINONS ONLY…or am i not allowed to have opinions either now? I do not despise historians or any other authors, i just have great dislike for you after the way you were rude to me and the aforementioned boasting. IN MY OPINION i DO THINK that you think you are something special. Why am i not allowed to say that? I could think of many more terrible things that one human being could say to another. So why don’t YOU chill out. I obviously hit a nerve judging by the way you reacted, so i think something about what i said is at least PARTIALLY true.

        I would also like to know how i insulted you. Please remind me of what i was supposed to have said before you start throwing accusations around. If i said it i will happily admit to it and there is probably a reason for why i said it.

        Anyway, enough with all this, i wasn’t intending for this to turn into this kind of conversation. If you look at my first comment, the only thing i called you was a hypocrite. I thought you were being hypocritical, so how else was i supposed to word that? I’m not going to apologize for having an opinion. Again, there are worse things one person could say to another. No need to get that upset.

        And you talk about me and MY attitude, how about the fact that you continue to avoid answering a simple question or two? That just shows YOUR true, IGNORANT attitude. And by threatening to ignore me further just bolsters this fact. All you had to do was answer one simple or question or two and this would have not turned into this mess. It’s so so sad that people like you are trying to keep the Civil War as an elitist interest and not want it to reach a wider audience. And if you don’t like what i just said, then answer my question(s). Don’t just avoid them again and use them as another opportunity to turn the tables and cry about how i’m picking on you when i’m not. I asked 3 serious, intelligent questions and you couldn’t even give me an answer to one of them. And if you continue to not answer i will speak for you as i already have an idea as to why you refuse to face what i have said…and this is it: you cannot give me an answer that will back up your bashing of the tv show Gettysburg and anything similar. As i have proved, you want more Civil War shows on TV, but they must be accurate. Am i right so far? If they’re not accurate, in your world you would banish all of them to Room 101 and then NO Civil War shows would exist, and any new ones that came along after that you would prevent from airing if they didn’t meet your extremely high standards. Correct? BUT, according to your latest comment, you hope that “children will (see Civil war shows on TV and then) learn, get interested, and carry on the work of remembering our past”. Now how is that to happen if there were no Civil War shows on TV? Case Closed. You either want new people (especially children) to be exposed to the war through tv, or you don’t. Which is it? If you say no, then you prove my point. If you say yes, then how do you expect this to happen if every future show was ‘inaccurate’ and therefore banned from the airwaves according to your rules? Can’t you see what a paradox you have created? It’s pretty hilarious really.

        And please don’t use implied threats towards me again – “I know your IP address”, “Oh well, you’ll have to deal with it”. I have not done anything illegal, and i’m pretty sure that stating my opinion and having anonymity on the internet where millions of other people do too is not illegal either. So don’t try and scare me next time just because i faintly upset you due to some truth in my comments. Just man up and answer the questions, JD. Thank you.

  3. Gettysbuff says:

    You’ve been very quiet through all of this, Greg. What’s your opinion? You once said that if i explained why tv shows like the ones discussed here, do more good than harm, then you would give me airtime. Well i have stated my case and have had plenty of airtime, so i think you owe it to me to address some of my points. I have, after all, been a good contributor and faithful follower to this site as you know, and i have never had a personal issue with you before (we just happen to disagree a lot). I think i deserve somebody (as it looks like JD is going to play the ignorant coward) acknowledging my points. There were plenty of people bashing that Gettysburg tv show last year, and nobody to defend it – is that fair? What if it was the other way round, then that wouldn’t be fair either would it? I am a single voice speaking out in opposition to all you haters, the least you can do is acknowlege what i am saying and comment. If all the people like JD out there are so sure of their own opinions, then what is there to worry about?

    1. I’m staying out of it. It’s not my fight. You both raised fair and valid points, some more gentlemanly than others. That’s all I’m saying on the matter. GC

      1. Gettysbuff says:

        As i have said before, you’re always the Gentleman aren’t you!

        I’m just happy that you at least acknowledged the fact that i raised some good points, so for that i would like to thank you, although it’s a shame you won’t elaborate. Now It would be nice if a certain somebody else could suck it up and do the same as there is always two sides to every story and no opinion is more right than another, WHOEVER you are. And one can’t just go around ignoring another person’s point of view and refusing to address it (or heck, even attack it if they want!). Some people are just really ignorant…and stubborn. What a shame that those people are in positions where they can influence people’s education on the Civil War. I’m just so glad that there are at least people like me out there who are also educating people (on a daily basis no less), to counteract these ‘mules’. There’s no denying that ‘Gettysburg’ was a masterpiece of a show, cinematically breathtaking it modernized the presentation of the Civil War and introduced it to a whole new group of people, many of whom decided to take a trip to Gettysburg for the first time in their lives because of it. So for that reason, no, shows like these should never be stopped from airing on tv. EVER. I don’t care how inaccurate the show was! You will never get uneducated people interested in any subject SOLELY with intricately detailed accuracies that only educated people would notice. Period. That’s why some math teachers (for example) try to make classes fun and – dare i say it – entertaining (mine did!), so that kids get interested. If plain old facts are presented in a tired and boring way you’re not gonna interest anyone, apart from geeks. Now i know this example isn’t exactly the same, as what we’re talking about here is how one should present FACTS to an audience, but the basic concept remains the same. Whether one is presenting fiction, half-truths, or 100% facts, they should be presented in an entertaining light…which is exactly what shows like Gettysburg did and will continue to do. Long they may continue to surf the airwaves. Hopefully one day we’ll see an accurate show that is also entertaining, and then everyone will be happy. But until that day comes i would be happy to see many many new inaccurate shows on the Civil War airing on tv, over seeing NO Civil War shows AT ALL. Not everyone reads books you know, and those that aren’t interested in the war are unlikely to get interested in it solely by a book, if they even pick up a book at all. The year is 2012, not 1912, and the majority of people get their news, entertainment, etc from a tv set. Whether you think that is a bad thing or not, it is the truth. You have a better chance at attracting an audience to any particular subject by presenting an entertaining tv show than you do through any other medium. And those are facts, jack. They have been proven. And to kinda ‘paraphrase’ Mr Petruzzi, THE MORE people that get interested in the Civil War through tv shows, accurate ones or not, THE BETTER. Is that not why we’re all here in the first place in our respective careers, to GET PEOPLE INTERESTED? Sigh.

  4. I am re-posting what I wrote on the mainpage:

    DPH Eaton
    I just have a few quick comments on the dialog between JD Petruzzi (JD) and Gettysbuff (GB):
    Although I think the topic, historical accuracy in relation to either historical documentary or historical fiction, is a valid and interesting one, the ad hominem nature of the comments is in no way necessary. It smacks of fifth graders in the schoolyard, and really does not advance the argument for either side.
    Now, on the subject itself, I can offer one or two thoughts: On television we find Historical Documentaries, (Actual images of actual events); What has been called, Docu-Drama (actors, I guess or reenactors portray scenes from historical events, often intercut with old photographs.) and Historical Drama (Actors, sets, storylines with the emphasis on ‘Drama’)
    We expect a tremendous amount of detail and authenticity when it comes to documentary presentation. I think one of the best ‘recent’ examples is Ken Burns’ CIVIL WAR. Rock solid in the authenticity department. Comparatively, these are not expensive to produce, yet can still draw in a large audience. I think that both JD and GB would agree that these serve a good purpose in educating the public and encourage viewers to go further: read books, visit sites, etc.
    The Docu-Drama is held to a slightly lower standard of authenticity, I think, because often historical facts are compressed or omitted. Often the ‘People’ (Usually faceless, either shot from behind or from the waist down) in these films are reenactors and every uniform or every piece of equipment may not be exactly as it was on the original day. That is because production values cost money, and these shows generally have a lower budgets. Still, we viewers expect to see a ‘true’ story when we watch them. This may have been the case with the Scott brothers’ Gettysburg. I had high expectations for it, but in the end, I couldn’t finish watching. Not from disgust as to the lack of detail, it just seemed all confused, and how many reenactors dying in ultra slow motion can a person endure. Rom Maxwell’s ‘Drama’ version was much more compelling and we actually cared for a number of the characters.
    Which takes me to Historical Drama. Now, this has been a staple in both literature and film since Homer’s ILIAD and D.W. Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION (Considered America’s first blockbuster). In this genre, I think, it is the skin of the apple that matters, not the core.
    How accurate was the Iliad? No one knows, but archaeologists have turned up a lot of evidence that Homer knew pretty much what he was talking about. How accurate was Shakespeare’s Henry V? Who cares? What about Huston’s film, RED BADGE OF COURAGE, (heavily edited by the studio, by the way)? I believe I recall that it was considered a very accurate example of Civil War combat. I especially remember a scene where an entire column of infantry has to jump out of the road because a bunch of heedless cavalrymen come charging through. BUT, it is the story of Henry Fleming’s transition from coward to hero that moves everything forward, and that transition could have been set in any venue where people are at war. The details, accurate or not, were incidental.
    I also consider Spielberg / Hanks’ series BAND OF BROTHERS and THE PACIFIC to be in this category. (Not to mention PRIVATE RYAN). Here, although it was the humanity of those stories that captured the viewers, nothing was skimped on insuring (nearly) complete accuracy. But one has to remember, that comes at the expense of time and money. BoB cost over $150,000,000 and took years to make. PACIFIC cost about $270,000,000! Both of these series relied heavily on foreign investment, European and Australian. It is difficult to find foreign investors for something as ‘American’ as a Civil War story. When I was in L.A. pitching my ‘series’ based on my books, someone at William Morris asked me how much I thought it might cost. I said around $100,000,000 and explained that BoB and PACIFIC cost more. The WME guy smiled and said: “Yeah, but you ain’t Spielberg and Hanks!” That was true. When I was talking to someone else about financing, they brought up the notion of foreign investment. “Is anybody in your story…oh, I don’t know…English?” I said ‘no’, but how about if I have Sherman drinking a Guinness or something like that? (I actually do have Sherman drinking Old Crow, which was Grant’s favorite whiskey!)
    So, to put it briefly, in the case of Historical Drama or Historical Fiction, the writer has to choose how much detail and authenticity is necessary to drive the story. I admit that in my books, I strive for complete accuracy, BUT sometimes I have to combine two characters into one or move an event a day or two forward or back or create fictional characters who are representative of actual ones. The story is what matters…the skin of the apple. Besides, it doesn’t take much of a budget to write a book. It’s easy to change 500 Cavalry to 1,000 Cavalry just like that! Putting it on the screen is a different matter.
    So, (Remember, I said I was going to be brief? I have been known to lie!) what are my final thoughts on the real debate between JD and GB? First, ‘bad’ history or ‘wrong’ history is worse than ‘no’ history when it purports to be ‘Real’. (Documentary or Docu-drama). Of course there are degrees of this, but it is dangerous and can turn a story into mythologizing or propaganda. Remember, Joseph Goebbels was also a producer of ‘Historical’ Documentaries! With this, I agree with J.D. I also agree that now, as we are in the middle of the 150th anniversary of the CW, more is better to raise the viewer’s awareness, but with the understanding that on the screen, authenticity and detail cost time and money. Not every company can afford to have 150 ‘accurate’ uniform shoulder patches handmade, when the wardrobe department can buy a box for $50! (I believe THE PACIFIC actually had the right type of palm trees flown to their shooting location in Australia! Just one small example.)
    Good history alone can make a compelling story. Thucydides’ HISTORY OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR’, for example, but even that has been criticized because the author used the elements of Greek Tragic form for his model. History is never objective!
    I agree with GB that we should also realize that even imperfect history on the screen can serve a useful purpose, BUT historians, scholars, just about anybody, has the right to be critical on any terms whatsoever and air that criticism in public. Then let the viewers decide.
    That’s it from me. I think I’m going to stay home tonight and watch Hepburn and O’Toole in THE LION IN WINTER, BRAVEHEART and THE LIFE OF BRIAN then make up my mind for good!

    1. Gettysbuff says:

      I disagree wth you about “bad history being worse than NO history”. No tv show, documentary or not, gets 100% of everything right. Making a tv show is nothing like writing a book. So therefore anything less than 100% correct would contain SOME elements of “bad history”, no? So where is the line drawn – 50/50? When does a tv show become “bad history”? Whatever the answer, i don’t think that if a tv show cannot be all “GOOD history”, then it should be banned. As we all know right now there aren’t enough shows on TV about the war, so i think we should be grateful for the ones that do come along, for now. Deep down i don’t think we would really truly like to see absolutely NO Civil War shows on TV rather than partially-accurate ones. I don’t want to be accused of repeating myself yet again, so i’ll just say this in brief:

      Not EVERYONE in the world will be compelled to pick up a history book (as there are many different kinds of personalities, IQs, interest levels, etc, etc, out there).

      Those that end up watching a partially-accurate TV show can always be educated in the future, but we would probably never get the chance to educate a lot of them if they didn’t see the show in the first place due to there being no Civil War shows on the air EVER.

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