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Shooting near an end on Antietam movie

August 11, 1999

Antietam filmBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

photos: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




SHARPSBURG - It took 11 hours to fight the Battle of Antietam, but it's taken about 60 days of shooting over three years to recreate the battle on film.

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Filmmakers plan to wrap up the final action scenes of the documentary by the end of next week, said Director Brad Graham of the Lansing, Mich.-based Media Magic Historical Films Group.

Graham hasn't found a venue for his four-hour documentary yet, but said it will probably be shown on a national cable network.

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The National Park Service has a one-hour preview video available for sale.

On Wednesday, a 150-member film crew depicted scenes from the famous cornfield fight on a farm less than a half-mile from where the battle took place.

Graham choreographed each scene. During rehearsals, re-enactors would yell "boom," but the explosions were real when the cameras rolled.

Effects crews filled tennis balls with gunpowder and wrapped them with duct tape. The re-enactors' muskets shot blanks.

The crew had borrowed two bronze cannons from the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. In one scene, they blew the wheel off one cannon (it was a fake wheel) and replaced it while under fire.

Graham"We don't think that's ever been done before," Graham said.

Dummies with missing limbs served as casualties.

All along, the filmmakers have tried to be historically accurate.

John Pagano, a teacher and battlefield guide from Gettysburg, Pa., kept an eye out for anything that would destroy a scene's integrity.

Pagano told one re-enactor to shorten the strap on his canteen. Longer straps were out because the canteen would have gotten in the way during battle, he said.

Monday through Wednesday, the crew, with Park Service permission, will get a rare opportunity to film battle scenes at Antietam National Battlefield.

Park visitors will be able to see the action from a distance, said Superintendent John Howard.

Film crews who want to use the battlefield are closely scrutinized and must follow strict rules, he said.

"We're not a movie set. We're a national battlefield," he said.

The battlefield has benefited from the arrangement with Media Magic. Film crews have restored fence rows and roads, which would have cost the park $25,000, Howard said.

The park also will get 5 percent of any profits from the preview tape narrated by James Earl Jones.

The finished documentary will feature local people like Tom Clemens, a professor at Hagerstown Community College, who will narrate part of the film.

The film company has spent about $350,000 so far, mostly on film, food and gunpowder, Graham said.

More than 600 re-enactors anxious to share their love of history have given more than that in their time and effort.

"All of these men are speculating on us, betting on the success of this," he said.

Many of the actors have an interest in the Civil War. The Battle of Antietam, on Sept. 17, 1862, was the single bloodiest day of the war, resulting in 23,110 casualties.

This is the third summer that many have given up vacation plans in order to be part of the filming.

"It's a real labor of love," said Jay Barrick, 36, of Harrisburg, Pa.

There are also newcomers like Doug Dobbs of Hagerstown.

"This is incredible. This special effects stuff is going to pump it up. If this doesn't compete with 'Private Ryan' I don't know what will," said Dobbs, 45.

Dobbs joined the set as a guest of a longtime volunteer.

Many of the actors who came from other states such as Ohio and Virginia are camping at the Middlekauf Farm.

The drought decimated a cornfield that had been planted in period-style rows on the Middlekauf Farm.

The crew got permission to film at the nearby Poffenberger Farm, owned by former Hagerstown Councilman Fred Kramer, where the cornstalks were high enough to serve as a backdrop.

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