She's on a 19th-century star search

October 17, 1997


Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - From her handmade straw bonnet down to her square-toed leather shoes, Pat James prides herself on looking like a true 19th-century woman.

She has spent thousands of dollars to be historically correct for the volunteer living history programs she does at Antietam National Battlefield and elsewhere.

Movie makers took notice and this year James added another impression to her repertoire: casting director.

James, who lives in Sharpsburg, this year cast hundreds of people as extras for two Civil War-era movies.

She may have an advantage when Hollywood, which is playing a starring role in Washington County tourism and economic development, arrives next year to film "Gods and Generals."


James said she would love to work on casting for the movie being made by "Gettysburg" Director Ronald F. Maxwell.

But even if she doesn't, she has a clear message for the thousands of area re-enactors and living history performers who may get involved: Don't work for free.

"We should not be working for a hat and a T-shirt. These people are that good," James said.

In the past, filmmakers have exploited the talent of living history buffs, who dress up in period costume for the love of it.

But James believes they need to be well compensated for the thousands of dollars they put into their costumes and the time they have to take off from work.

The producers of "Love Letters," a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie she is now casting for, recently tried to cut costs by reducing the extras' benefits.

"I told them to go find the money," she said.

Extras in that movie get paid $100 for an eight-hour day, she said.

"You get what you pay for. I make the scene look real. I call them living props," she said.

James also recruits those who don't have period clothing and who are outfitted by the movie company.

"Sometimes I don't go for the most beautiful face. I go for the most 19th century photogenic face," she said.

Those who don't have their own clothing get paid $5 an hour, she said.

Many re-enactors and living history people are frustrated actors, she said.

"I got to finally give them a chance," she said.

James also is getting her chance to make a living at a hobby she discovered when she moved to Sharpsburg 12 years ago and was amazed to think of the effect the Civil War had on local residents who had to "clean up" after the bloodiest day in American history.

Since then, she founded the Frederick Ladies' Relief Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to living history.

She wrote and directed the "Torchlight Tour" at Antietam National Battlefield, a prelude to her real dream - writing and directing a film herself.

James got her start in film when she was approached by the production manager for "The Day Lincoln Was Shot."

The TNT cable network movie premiere near the anniversary of Lincoln's death in April 1998, she said.

Rob Morrow, best known as Dr. Joel Fleischman on "Northern Exposure," portrays John Wilkes Booth.

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