It’s been nearly three years since my last post about Gods and Generals. If you go way back, you may remember my 2011 series when I blogged about the release of the highly anticipated extended director’s cut. This past July was the fifth anniversary of when I was invited to Manassas, Virginia by Warner Brothers to cover the official premiere at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. It was one of the defining moments of my life, and I am proud to call friends a few actors who I watched on-screen since my childhood. Anyway, I have actually stumbled onto some new footage. You’ve probably never seen it. Heck, anyone aside from director Ron Maxwell and those in the editing room probably haven’t seen it. Except for James Horan, who played Col. Arthur Cummings in the First Manassass battle scene. I was looking over some of my old work (I interviewed him in September of 2011; one of many cast and crew members I had the pleasure of speaking to in my blogging adventures) and one thing led to another, and I was on Horan’s website. I started watching a highlight reel of his acting, and lo and behold, there was a clip from Gods and Generals I had never seen before.
On April 5th, the Indiegogo campaign for a new Civil War short film titled Our War will be marching into action, in need of fan support to help subsidize the cost of production. The movie is to be directed and co-written by J.D Mayo, who has extensive work with independent films, as well as Civil War historian and reenactor Steven Hancock, who will be producing the film as well as writing the screenplay. Having known Mr. Hancock for many years, I can attest that his passion and knowledge for the American Civil War will make for an interesting film project, which we can be sure will be as authentic and historically accurate as possible. Pre-production has already been underway, with the filming of a teaser trailer featuring the star of the film Ryan Daniel Thompson, who appeared in two episodes of the hit AMC historical drama Turn: Washington’s Spies.
After years of waiting, it appears that To Appomattox is finally picking up steam, with a realistic chance for this project to finally be filmed. As discussed on this blog numerous times, the series is going the way of a Kickstarter campaign, which will seek to receive funding from fans, in order for the first two episodes to be filmed and shopped as a backdoor pilot. If it is successful, the remaining eight episodes would then be picked up by a network. If not, then they would be released independently as a film. Producer Michael Beckner has done something unique here, and that is getting fans actively involved, not just with funding (which will provide rewards specific to the amount donated) but with the “creative” process as well. Dating back to last year, when I spoke to him via phone, he expressed his sincere hopes that this series would be one “of the people”. The Civil War community is a rabid one; a group of people always craving—no, starving—for projects related to the genre. They also demand historical accuracy, something difficult to attain in mainstream media. But that aside, are there enough potential contributors out there for this money to be raised?
It has been a quiet last few months for me, but finally, thanks to recent history related media projects, including AMC’s Turn, I have found some things to write about:
- It seems like forever, but Ron Maxwell’s Copperhead is finally getting released on Blu-Ray and DVD, next week, April 15. While the film did not do as well in theaters as I had hoped, this project will likely be an immense home video success, much like Gettysburg and Gods and Generals both were. Given the outstanding cinematography, I am expecting a great HD transfer that will be a feast for the eyes. Also, it is worthy to note that because the film garnered a PG-13 rating (and in my view, probably could have gotten just PG), the hope we can have is that this film will make its way into schools for use as an educational tool. The running time, family themes, and accessibility to people of all ages definitely makes this something that can be shown in a variety of settings, from trying to teach life on the homefront to middle schoolers, all the way up to high school and college with its dialogue about politics, anti-war sentiment, and states’ rights.
Good friend Steven Hancock is making headway with his fan film Doctor Who: A Dame to Kill. It seems like just yesterday that I was writing about his idea for a production, with him getting set to launch a Kickstarter campaign. I’m happy to say that through one way or another, the film did get financed and is currently nearing the end of production, set for a summer release. The running time will be around 35 minutes, as the film stars Lilly Nelson as the Doctor, an actress with nearly 20 film credits to her name. I certainly am impressed that Steven was able to follow through with this project. As it happens, some additional funds are needed for post-production work, so if you are a fan of the Doctor Who franchise or are feeling generous, you can donate to their PayPal account. While any amount will help, a donation of $15 or more before 11:59pm EST Saturday will give you a chance to see a rough cut of the film before it is released. To check out how the film is going to look, below is the teaser trailer. Enjoy!
With more than a hundred film credits to his name, actor Bill Oberst Jr. is a well-known star on the B-level horror circuit, cranking out what seems like an endless amount of movies every year, each one portrayed with his legendary creepiness. He has been honored by almost every horror movie organization out there, and has even been nicknamed the contemporary “Man of a Thousand Faces”. Even with solidifying himself to a genre where he is instantly recognizable, Bill is no stranger to American history, and the Civil War in particular. In 2007, he played Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in the History Channel documentary Sherman’s March, and in 2012, more comically, he appeared as Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. Even with such a title and content, Bill was determined to play Lincoln in a dignified manner, because as he explained when I interviewed him two years ago, “I really don’t like to see historical figures played for laughs and stripped of their dignity. As I saw it, I had been given a chance to play one of America’s great heroes and I was going to do that, regardless of the bizarre context. So I guarded the character against anything that would make him look ridiculous…”. Now, after many horror films in between, Bill is set to return to the screen in a “normal” role, again, in a Civil War-related movie called The Retrieval, which was made last year and has had a limited release, but is hoping for a broader one this coming spring.
Yes, we are still keeping tabs on everything Gods and Generals here, and it is very happily that I announce that several previously unreleased pieces from the film’s soundtrack are now available on YouTube, and with crystal-clear clarity. The person who has put these up on his account cites “connections at the studio” as the reason he was able to have access to this. Just this past summer, it appeared that a full-length soundtrack for the film (eclipsing three hours) was going to be released on CD. There was a website that was forwarded to me by a colleague which included a track list of more than 40, spanning three discs—there was even a cover art design. I immediately contacted director Ron Maxwell asking if this was legitimate or not, and unfortunately, he said it was nothing but piracy. MP3’s of all the songs appeared to be available for download on that same site, but my McAfee virus warning kept coming up, so I never shared it publicly.
How big of a fan of the hit British TV series Doctor Who, are you? Big enough to want to make an entire fan film based on the show? Enter Steven Hancock, a friend of mine who blogs about history and film, and even has a director credit to his name, after he helmed a short tint-type recruitment video for his Civil War reenacting group. He is a very passionate individual who does not just want to stand by and watch Doctor Who, he wants to put his own twist on the story by paying homage to the series via a fan film, which will be starring actress Lilly Nelson in the title role. Nelson and Hancock actually went to school together, and both are avid fans of the series and are pooling their resources to make sure that this project happens. According to the film’s Facebook page, the synopsis for Doctor Who: A Dame to Kill, the current title, is, “After the TARDIS crashes for unknown reasons in a forest in the United States, the Doctor is forced to regenerate. Found by a newlywed couple, the Time Lord recuperates. But it isn’t long before an old enemy emerges, forcing the Doctor into a deadly confrontation, with the fate of the universe in the balance.” A Kickstarter campaign, featuring some cool but not-yet announced prizes to the donors, is set to begin August 28th. The official video for the campaign will be released tomorrow, around 8pm, via their Facebook. The budget the project looks to achieve is in the neighborhood of $4,500.
History-based films always work the best when we can watch a particular story and relate to the characters, and then in our minds, just change a few things around, and all of a sudden, a movie set during a particular time period becomes very relevant to almost any era. This is what happens with Ron Maxwell’s Copperhead, a film so incredibly distanced from Gettysburg and Gods and Generals (both in content and style), in a sense that it takes the both-sides-are-right mentality and completely smashes it, instead, choosing to come right out and say that war is wrong, because no matter what side you are on, or what the result is, good people acting as mere pawns in a chess game for generals and politicians, will be killed and wounded regardless. The families and conflicts present in this movie could quite literally be anybody. Yes, they are dressed in 1860’s clothing and talk about far-gone politics, but switch a few items around, and the Beeches and Hagadorns (the two main families of this film) could be any, everyday people dealing with their children being sent off to fight in Vietnam, or perhaps more recent actions in the Middle East. It is a film that can reach out and touch us, bringing us into the history in a more intimate, down-to-earth way.
Copperhead does leave some to be desired, by way of certain actors needing more screen-time, and some characters who are not developed well-enough, but overall, this is a movie that people will be able to relate to and discuss, which is definitely very important for something so laden with politics. As has been said ad nauseum, this is nothing like Maxwell’s other Civil War movies, because the battleground is not of open fields and cannons, but of vitriolic politics, families divided, and homesteads being threatened by fire and rope. The civilian is an oft forgotten facet of all wars and their history, but thankfully this movie begins to show us that the men, women, and children far away from the battlefields were just as much warriors as the soldiers doing the fighting. All of this is helped along by the outstanding soundtrack by Laurent Eyquem, which contributes much to the feeling of the movie.
Every so often, I hear a score that transports me to another time and place, a piece of music that stands out from all of the rest. The music written by Laurent Eyquem for Copperhead fits that description. When I was invited to a private screening of the film back in December, before the picture was locked, I spoke with director Ron Maxwell before the show, and told him something that I had to think about with much deliberation: this melancholy yet uplifting soundtrack may be better than the one for Gods and Generals…it may have even surpassed Gettysburg. Ron smiled and noted that he loved the job Laurent did, and was very happy with the finished product. We both agreed on something else, and that was how kind and down-to-earth this composer was. Sometimes musicians can be very high-strung, or almost detached, but Laurent is as good a person as he is a musician. When I introduced myself to him via email before asking for an interview, he told me that he had already known of my work, because he had been following my blog for months, and even linked some articles on his website. We then conducted the interview below, which took place this past spring, and followed that with a lengthy conversation about films and music, and also about Copperhead, as he was curious to know my thoughts since I had seen the film already. It was a very fun and interesting afternoon.