'Gods and Generals' movie crew returns

June 23, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

Temperatures blazed into the 80s Saturday, but it was mid-December as far as the Hollywood cameras were concerned.

Civil War re-enactors in heavy wool coats helped a small film crew from "Gods and Generals" fill in scenes from the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg.

It was the movie's first foray into Washington County since producer-director Ronald Maxwell wrapped up principal filming along the C&O Canal towpath near Sharpsburg in December.

In those days, each day of filming was marked by a large entourage of trailers, equipment and crews known as "base camp." Sometimes, there were hundreds of re-enactors on the set.


By comparison, Saturday's crew at Fort Frederick State Park consisted of about 50 re-enactors and a handful of movie wizards.

Director Tom Smith, who was in charge of the action Saturday, said a lot of the movie magic would be added in a Hollywood studio with the help of computers.

Smith has worked on two Star Wars movies - "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" - along with "E.T The Extraterrestrial" and "Poltergeist."

Smith set out to capture a very specific set of action scenes on film Saturday.

No sound was taped.

In some cases, Smith filmed all 50 of the re-enactors in period costume and planned to multiply them later in the studio. In other cases, he would capture one re-enactor on film and add that to the foreground of existing footage for depth.

With the cameras rolling, re-enactor Jack Hefestay, 55, of Leesburg, Va., charged across a green field with his rifle in front of him. A systems engineer at Lockheed Martin, Hefestay practices his hobby every chance he gets.

"It's a real thrill to get to portray a Civil War soldier in any capacity," he said.

He and the other re-enactors were each paid $100 for the day's work, said Dennis Frye, a local Civil War historian and associate producer for the movie who helped organize the shoot.

Many of the re-enactors were members of the film's core company, who were handpicked for the quality of their costumes and their Civil War impressions.

For part of the day, Smith filmed the re-enactors in front of a "green screen." In the studio, everything that is green will be replaced with previously shot footage.

"We can put anything on the background. Just like the weatherman on TV," Smith said.

A local person was hired to build a 20-foot-by-8-foot "green screen" out of wood. In Hollywood, the "green screen" is much larger and it's made of cloth, said Tim Angulo, visual effects director of photography.

Movie crews will head to Lexington, Va., today to get an outdoor shot of Gen. Stonewall Jackson's home that will be used to set the stage for a scene that was shot earlier. Similar footage will be shot Monday outside the home where Jackson died in Guinea Station, Va.

"Gods and Generals" follows Jackson's life through the early part of the Civil War. It is a prequel to Maxwell's 1993 epic, "Gettysburg."

Most of the movie was filmed in Washington County. Other area sites included Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Martinsburg, W.Va.

The movie is scheduled to be in theaters in December.

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