As we all know, the production company for the still-in-limbo To Appomattox miniseries project, Sony, has recently severed ties with them after years of holding the rights got absolutely nowhere. There are a good number of people following this massive Civil War project who feel they are being misled by the people in charge, but after speaking to a source close to the situation, the individual was very clear that peoples’ anger should be directed at the company who “held them hostage”, not the other way around. This was not a deflection of my questions, but a rather comprehensive explanation of all that has been going on over the last five years, and I believe it to be true—if I didn’t, I would not be writing this. It was a lot to digest, but I am of the opinion that the producers of To Appomattox and their cast and crew still have the utmost enthusiasm in the project, and that it certainly is not dead. There are a few concerns that need to be looked at, but overall, I do think they are now moving in the right direction.
First things first, and this was something that not many people think about, is the importance of the foreign market. The main reason why this series has not been produced is because major European markets do not have any interest in the American Civil War. While this is obviously expected, it is also very discouraging that American production companies must rely so much on foreign money. The comparison that was made for me is that any day of the week an internationally-based series like The Borgias or The Tudors will get picked up, yet something centered solely on American history will not, no matter what the caliber of the cast is (if Rob Lowe, William Peterson, Stephan Lang, Bill Paxton, and the many others cannot draw interest to an American story, what will?). The producers still feel that there is enough American interest to make this, though, and that by independently financing it through a Kickstarter campaign (more on that later) they will be able to reach a large enough audience here in the states to be profitable and successful, and that anything else gained oversees will just be gravy.
There was also a lack of seriousness amongst big studio and network executives in what this project is all about, as the script was being thrown around for consideration. One claimed that it was “too historical”, while another wanted it to be “something like North and South; a love story with a bunch of characters no one ever heard of”. Perhaps the most mind-numbing assessment of why To Appomattox was a bad project came from one executive who said that, “We need this to be more about the fighting in the trenches. We cannot have a series about generals who are watching the battle unfold miles behind the lines on surveillance monitors.” My source and I both hoped that this individual was speaking metaphorically, and that no one could really be that incredibly stupid.
The reason why we have had so many delays over the years is quite simply because of the inaction and foot-dragging of the Mini Series and Movie of the Week Division of Sony Pictures. Putting it bluntly, they wanted to own the rights to the project without putting in a cent of their own money, thus rendering anything further happening impossible because of the aforementioned lack of interest by foreign markets and investors. There was also the revelation that Sony was never really “fully in” with their commitment to putting a product out there, a mentality that actually caused several networks to tell the production staff, “We love this project, but we will not work with Sony”. Because of this, everything grounded to a standstill, and now ties between To Appomattox and Sony were finally cut. While both sides parted amicably, there is no doubt plenty of frustration is still hovering, as it was essentially their fault that this could not get made. The company held the series hostage, and in turn, held the still-interested cast-members and their fans hostage, all of this for more than two years. While I would still criticize the series crewmembers who posted regular updates, which may have been falsely leading others to believe that production was closer than it was in reality, I am now of the opinion that it is not their fault that we do not have a finished product. I appreciate the team for wanting to interact with fans and keep them informed, but could there be such a thing as too informed?
Because they are now looking to do this independently, that is where Kickstarter comes in, as well as one major change to the format of the series. While it would still be eight parts, the first episode would actually be a made-for-TV movie, about 90 minutes long (for a two-hour time slot) as opposed to the 48 minutes an hour-long episode would have gotten. This is what is known as the “backdoor pilot”, which would allow for the gears to get rolling on something small, with the hopes that an impressive film can be produced to then garner interest in a full-on series, which would have seven parts remaining. With such an impressive cast, it would be hard to see zero interest in furthering along the story. That is the money that would need to be raised—only the budget for this pilot, and not the $30 million or so for the entire thing. The budget of the first episode cannot yet be revealed, but the campaign is expected to begin in June or July, and there are some very exciting gifts to be had in what I will call the “exchange program” that Kickstarter offers for monetary donations of various levels. To use a quote by Abraham Lincoln, if done correctly, this series will really be one “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. For everyone’s sake, I truly hope this is it.