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.
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.
First things first, no, I am not ceasing my activity here on this blog. Unfortunately, I have not had the time to write as much as I would like to, but schoolwork, my two jobs, and working on several other projects that are going absolutely nowhere has really hampered my activity here. Every summer, I am usually posting the same complaint: there is just nothing to write about. Even if I still covered hockey on a regular basis, there would be nothing worthy to note here. Civil War movie production is in a little bit of a downturn, as since Copperhead has now hit theaters and On-Demand to great reviews from people like you and me, but awful ones from the “real” critics, I have now come to the realization that I will most likely never be able to provide such coverage of a single film like that ever again, at least not unofficially from the sidelines as a “fan”. There just are not enough hours in the day, and when there are, there aren’t enough days in a week. It is because of this that I wanted to go in a slightly different direction with my writing. Over the years, this blog has become the go-to for everything Civil War-related in the media, and now because of my scathing reviews of several television documentaries, people with interests in all different topics are checking this place out. Because FNYSTF has always been a potpourri of subjects, as varied as they may be, I do not want this to become littered with only my thoughts on documentaries and historical flicks. That is where History Watchdog comes in, a new blog devoted entirely to that medium.
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.
If there is one thing we have seen in the promotion and distribution of Ron Maxwell’s Copperhead, it is that the production team is not afraid to integrate new aspects and technology in order to boost viewership and appeal to modern audiences. We have seen some groundbreaking new ways of interacting with fans, namely through the “Demand” feature, which has prospective audience members get involved and show why the film should make it to a theater near them. For independent films, this is going to be the future. Now, I have a new bit to share with you, called the “Copperhead Blog App”, which you can access by clicking here. This app allows you to test your Civil War knowledge through trivia games, check out a massive gallery of behind-the-scenes photos, and perhaps most uniquely, have the ability to download recipes of dishes that would have been cooked in the 1860’s time-period that Copperhead takes place in. Talk about bringing history alive! Please check it out.
The app also includes a countdown to the June 28 release day. We’re only 17 days away! How excited are you?
Costume designers are extremely underrated members of any film production crew, because more often than not, we do not realize exactly how much work goes into fitting hundreds of cast-members, even though we find ourselves staring right at them on the screen. For a history-related film more than any other, it is of the utmost importance that the clothing the characters are wearing is correct, especially with a director at the helm who is known to go for an authenticity down to the buttons on a coat or shirt. While many of the background extras were members of the living history settlement where Copperhead was filmed, all of their clothing was not dated to the Civil War time period, as they portray 1800’s Canadian townspeople and farmers, not upstate New Yorkers from the 1860’s. Thus the tedious journey began, to not only design uniforms for the various soldiers who come in and out of the film (and whose uniforms are well-documented), but to come up with accurate renditions of the clothing “normal” people of the time would wear. The immense task of fitting the cast of Copperhead fell to Kate Rose, who has eighteen other titles of work to her name, spanning both film and television. Having seen the film already, I would like to comment that she did an outstanding job. It may be ironic, but sometimes it takes a person to not even notice the costumes to realize how great a job the designer did. What I mean is, because everything looked so real, both clothing and scenery wise, sometimes it is easy to forget we are watching a movie, and only when we step back do we say, “Wow”. Simple but elegant would be the proper way to describe her work. I had the chance to interview Kate by email. Our conversation is below: