News and Disappointment: “To Appomattox” Mini-Series Changing Title to “Grant Vs. Lee”

As you all know, I used to write for the unofficial fan blog of To Appomattox, and still wish them the best of luck in production and plan on covering it from a far on here once filming begins, but I just have to say that I am not too crazy about the name change, the mini-series now shifting over to Grant Vs. Lee. I can see why the title was changed, because the majority of television viewers in this country can probably barely pronounce the word “Appomattox” correctly, let alone know what it refers to, however, I think that the new title they have come up with is a bit too gimmicky and hokey for my liking, sounding like something the History Channel would have produced, and you all know how I feel about them and their Civil War productions. Grant Vs. Lee is definitely better for marketing, because most people (or at least I certainly hope so) know who Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant are. Even the casual reader of history and anyone who paid attention in school knows them, so I can obviously see the marketing angle they are coming from. The rumor is that ongoing network negotiations have forced the title change, and that comes as no surprise, since respectful titles and historical authenticity must go out the window for the almighty dollar. Thankfully, it is being reported that the script has gone unchanged, which, unless you want to really be fanatical, is all the matters.

I am not disgusted by the name change like others are, just mildly disappointed. While everyone’s patience is fading due to how long it has taken for this production to get off the ground, as filming was supposed to begin months ago to reach their summer of 2013 promised deadline, the entire scenario is giving fans and observers some insight into how something like this works, and how miraculous it truly is for any history related production to get off the ground, unless the story is carried by gratuitous violence, and not the characters. But in getting back to the title, the change just reeks of having to please the American consumer culture. I do not know if the change was made happily or begrudgingly, but it really does not matter. Fact is, we now have Grant Vs. Lee, which sounds like the preview for a UFC match or a video game more than it does a dramatic, historically accurate Civil War production. Even though a majority of the basis for this series is Grant’s memoirs, what about all of the other generals? The cast list is massive, and the story spans the entire Civil War, in both Eastern and Western Theaters, and includes battles not fought by either general, or on occasions where they were not both there at the same time.

Had the miniseries only been about the events of 1864 and on, like the Overland Campaign and the cat-and-mouse chase between Grant and Lee that ensued and ended the war, I would have absolutely no problem with it—in fact, I would probably think the change would be for the better. However, the series is about the entire war, stretching so far back as to when Grant and Lee were allies, not enemies, as soldiers fighting in the American Army down in Mexico in the 1840’s. I do not buy the argument that there was always a rivalry between them both. No, not until the very end, and it was less about ego and personal competition, which the title makes it seem like, and more about achieving victory for their country. I also do not buy into the idea that all the episodes will now serve as buildup to when they did meet—that would be a farce and incorrect, as the two men never could have dreamed they would be meeting each other on the field of battle over and over again to cap off the Civil War.

Now that there are these two names present in the title, it will only go to feed the appearance to people who do not know any better and who are not as learned (the very audience which this series will target, in an attempt to enlighten them) that Grant and Lee were the only two people who mattered, a great mistake. Maybe there will be another name change, but who knows. People are busy on Facebook and other blogs expressing their disappointment and offering most likely fruitless suggestions. I probably cannot do any better, so the only thing I would suggest is something with the actual phrase “Civil War” in the title. There, that’s simple enough. As always, just my proverbial two cents.

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17 thoughts on “News and Disappointment: “To Appomattox” Mini-Series Changing Title to “Grant Vs. Lee”

  1. Gettysbuff

    “Fact is, we now have Grant Vs. Lee, which sounds like the preview for a UFC match or a video game”

    “Even though a majority of the basis for this series is Grantโ€™s memoirs, what about all of the other generals? The cast list is massive, and the story spans the entire Civil War”

    Thanks for ripping me off there, Greg. It would have been nice if you’d have prefaced your comments (ESPECIALLY the first one) by crediting me, or at least by casual mentioning something like “as another person said on facebook…” or something similar. It’s borderline plagerism…Just my two cents worth ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Gettysbuff

      Just realized that you probably didn’t realize it was me (i don’t post as ‘Gettysbuff’), but the latter half of my point still remains…

      1. I didn’t steal what I wrote here from anyone. Even when we agree on something, which is rare, you have to insult me by saying I plagiarize. Why do you bother reading this blog anymore?

      2. Gettysbuff

        I said BORDERLINE plagiarism. Not the same thing. I just think it’s funny how i made similar observations 2 WHOLE DAYS before you published this post, and in this post you mentioned that you had read other people’s facebook comments regarding the name change so it’s highly likely you were ‘inspired’ by what you had read. And there’s no shame in that, imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery!…Only if you own up to it though, LOL! And i read your blog because you’re the only person saying anything worthwhile about things that i am interested in, so i think i’ll stay thank you. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      3. Plagiarism/borderline plagiarism…same thing. I have given you shout-outs and credit for certain things on this blog before and you know it, including something very important (fact checking) on Killing Lincoln. Why now would I feel compelled to rip you off, on something that really isn’t all too important? You and I are not the only two people on this earth to draw that comparison.

        But comparing the title to a UFC match was something I said as soon as I found out about the change, and believe me, I found out before most people. I would ask you to corroborate with Steven, but I imagine that would not go over so well.

      4. Gettysbuff

        OK Greg, relax. I guess my sense of humor is just misunderstood (Hell, i’ve always though that I’M misunderstood). I guess that’s the one downside of the internet – what you say can be taken the wrong way (although i DID try using emoticons, ‘LOL’, and one instance of the word “funny”). But believe me Greg, i had a BIG smile on my face when i read your comments because of the slightest chance that what i had said earlier inspired you to say the same. I wasn’t annoyed one bit. I PROMISE. ๐Ÿ˜€ I was just very happy that you agreed and still am.

  2. Michael Frost Beckner

    Guys: we’re getting this made. My scripts, my way…which is in service of the history and all of our connections to it. As for television titles they, unlike books and feature films, are “file cabinet” markers: Hatfields and McCoys, Lost, Survivor, CSI, Sherlock, Las Vegas…and the biggest: NCIS… Content is what matters. In the various meetings I told them I’d be happy to entitle the show “The Story of my Breakfast Muffin” if they will put $10m dollars in to promotions and marketing of THE CONTENT. Please try to see the forest through the trees. ‘Cause right now there’s a lot of people bumping into the trees.

    As I said from the get-go of this announcement: this is temporary for building audience interest. I am less interested in pleasing you than teaching America’s young people. What’s most important is that the most Americans possible watch this film and learn from it. The congregation not the choir… I just hope you all continue to sing in tune.

  3. Charlie Waffles

    Michael,

    So your getting this made, yet you need 10 million in funding still? I understand this is for Network purposes to gaze opinions of those interested in the show, and from seeing the comments on FB, I think the general consensus is negative (but hey, that’s just me). All I’m seeing from this project is temporary audience-building. Such as “We’ll have an update here!” and “We’ll have an update there!” I’m not a movie professional but I’ve never seen a film made this way publicly where every 3.5 days theres promises of an update of sorts, only to be left wondering one question: When and WILL this be filmed?

    I mean heck, the title “Grant and Lee” would have been better than “Grant v.s. Lee”. By the way isn’t a large portion of this primarily about Grant? If so that defeats the purpose of the title. Much like having a Batman movie without Batman. Kind of hard to not “bump into the trees” to begin with when there’s not a lot of content to go on as it is besides some drawings from a comic artist, and a pretty plain webpage.

    CW

  4. Michael

    Thank you, Mr. Waffles. I completely understand your frustration. To help with your confusion (since you’re not a “movie professional”) promotions and marketing are not part of the production budget. Furthermore, my comment was somewhat hypothetical and that $10m was just an illustration and the conversations/reasons for the test marketing aren’t actually about that. I made my point badly and I’m sorry.

    You say that you’ve “never seen a film made this way” and I get that this annoys you. I apologize, but would like to point out that this is because no one HAS ever done a film this way. Ever. I thought I’d try something new with social networking. This isn’t working for you either, so I humbly apologize for that as well.

    What I am thankful for is that you are clearly passionate about the idea/your hopes for our series. You don’t want to see it not happen or go in the wrong direction. Let me assure you that won’t happen.

    I also would like to believe that when you’re feeling frustrated about the the project you’re also saying to yourself, “I can’t imagine how much more Mr. Beckner’s and his cast’s frustration must be.” By the same token, when you’re disappointed that an announcement we believe is forthcoming doesn’t happen, you probably take a minute and reflect that the job my production and I are doing is pretty tough and filled with a lot of disappointments; that these disappointments–which to you are merely about information or an understandable personal/emotional response, for those of us whose livelihoods are wholly invested in this project the reprecussions of these disappointments hit that much harder.

    Let me also apologize for the website. My excellent staff and I have done the very best we can with it and will continue to keep it up…but we are not website professionals. Both Sony (while we were with them), and the studio we are with now think engaging with fans on a daily PERSONAL basis is unimportant. I disagree. Fortunately, because this is an independent production (and I don’t think there’s ever been a $46m miniseries done as an independent film ever before), I can do as I wish.

    I wish to engage with those people interested in what I’m doing, interested in this project. Unlike many film and TV creators, my door is always open to any and all.

    Thank you, and Greg, for the opportunity to have this dialogue. Please forward me any suggestions you might have as to how I or my production may better communicate with you.

    At the end of the day, the one thing we BOTH see eye-to-eye on is that this miniseries succeeds!

    With utmost respect and best regards,
    Michael

    1. Andrew Catanzaro

      Hi Michael- I’m new to this type of communication, but please bear with me. Did you know that several years ago Beyonce made a video at Grant’s Tomb? As a teacher, I’m often challenged to make history palatable to an apathetic audience. It can be a daunting task to bring the facts, characters, “zeitgeist”, etc. together in order to tell a compelling story that will be enlightening and, forgive me, entertaining.

      Grant’s life story alone is so epic in scale that I’ve spent years reading and researching it’s details.
      I’d begin the telling of it with his sensitivity to horses and his mother’s stoic yet solid love which gave him his princely loner’s strength to endure failure. Add to this his father’s egotism and ambition for him to make something of himself, coupled with Jesse’s disappointment with Ulys’s bond with Mom, and you have the primal ingredients for the the classic hero’s quest ala Joseph Campbell. A 19th century American version of The Odyssey.

      Julia played both parental roles, that’s why he went to hell when he was apart from her. A Manchild sent forth to slay dragons where more manly men had failed.

      Picture this opening scene- which would make all the stuffed shirt civil war buffs shriek like Carrie Nation at an Irish wake- …. A black kid in the South Bronx gets into a fight with his stepdad over lack of ambition yada yada, gets on the subway, gets off in upper Manhattan still steaming, hears rap music, ends up at Grant’s Tomb at the tail end of a gangsta rap video shoot, rival gang appears, shooting ensues, kid takes cover under a marble bench, cops and sirens, kid sees horses’ legs, black cop on horse commands kid to crawl out, kid is scared shirtless , cop can tell and softens tone tells kid that the horse won’t hurt him, kid begins to crawl out, segue to baby Grant crawling under horses legs at Point Pleasant under the calm gaze of Mom whose knitting on the porch, baby Grant makes his way through the horse’s front legs, horse begins nuzzling cooing baby Grant, a knowing rapture ensues between baby, horse and mother, Jesse appears, what the heck is going on…..

      Can you see the progression? Establishment of a contemporary chorus/narrator. Suspense.
      Relevance.

      Don’t worry, this story can be told… and sold.

  5. Harper Wald

    As a southern, I think this will be an epic miniseries and I would love to work on set in some capacity. I have experience as an extra (worked on Game Change) plus I have a real southern (educated) accent. If there is any room for me in those roles I would love to have the chance to work on this project. Thanks for any direction anyone can give me.

  6. Russ-The grown up Leprechaun.

    I agree with not thinking Grant vs. Lee is a good idea. Very good reasons written. Also,I hope they do not hire any of us reenactors. I realize this will piss many off, including friends, but I mean it. I do not want to see another film with my friends in it or myself. Been there, done that. I want to enjoy this series if it is good, for whatever it is and not looking for faces. Can be quite a distraction. Can also create unwanted animosity. We do not need that. P.S. Stephen Lang as Lincoln-that is a stretch and goes to the well one too many a time. Love him, but will cause a great debate. Others, no problem.

  7. Amy

    Hi–just asking if this mini-series/movie/project is still on-going. The new Lincoln movie is excellent so I would love to see more about this time (watched Hatfields & McCoys–another excellent mini-series!!) And I hope you will use as many true to the time areas as possible–not back stage lots or filmed in another country.
    There is one thing–and I might be wrong about this–some of the actors you have portraying characters are kind of old. I’d think much older than the actual people at the time! Movie make-up is magic, I know!
    Thanks for letting potential viewers in on the progress!

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