Golden Thread Twenty-five Years Ago: My Brush With Glory!

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Custers Luck

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Of course! I won't promise complete answers on things I intend to develop more fully later, but will say so if that's the case.
Thank you James , Of the movies you have worked on, is there one that you personally gained a different perspective on in a historical sense?
 
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James N.

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Thank you James , Of the movies you have worked on, is there one that you personally gained a different perspective on in a historical sense?
Actually, all of them except The Blue and the Gray and North and South, both of which were simplistic and cliche-ridden soaps designed for a pretty low level of historical knowledge and interest. Both Glory and Ironclads involved aspects of the Civil War I had only general knowledge about, namely the naval and the coastal war. I coupled work on them with visits to nearby historic sites like Harrison's Landing and Forts Pulaski, Moultrie, and Sumter. Last of the Mohicans sparked an interest in the French and Indian War and Revolution that I also knew relatively little about, resulting in vacations to visit most of the historic sites of both. Though I'm a native Texan, on Alamo... I worked with many dedicated reenactors who knew about the battle, the Texas Revolution, and the Mexican War in microscopic detail; in fact, one of them, Dr. Richard Bruce Winders, has been curator of the real Alamo now for 15 years!
 
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Glory Cast and Crew

Back in 1989, Black reenactors were about as elusive as genuine "Black Confederates" had been! Though we were joined in Savannah for varying periods by the very few who existed at the time, they probably could've been counted on the fingers of a single hand, so our answer was to create some. The same day I reported to Ray and met Matt Murdzak, we and several others went for our very first duty to nearby Fort Jackson Park, a charming War of 1812-vintage brick fort seen in the thumbnails below, that stood beside the Savannah River. It unfortunately doesn't actually appear in the film, but was rented by the production company as an out-of-the-way place for training our background company, who we also met for the first time. We were all clad in modern street clothes, except for a few pieces of headgear like kepis and forage caps.

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The order of the day was to instruct our company in the School of the Soldier: how to stand, facing movements, and basic marching; before donning belts with bayonets, cap pouches, and cartridge boxes ( only ) and finally taking rifles for manual-of-arms instruction. For some of the retired veterans among them it was quite an adjustment! As part of our work we moved among the double ranks adjusting posture and accoutrements as needed. Though our "recruits" were mostly in their twenties there was a leavening of older men like one tall and serious man wearing a strange-looking large, floppy black hat who seemed intent on getting things right; I later learned this was Morgan Freeman, who was the only one of the actors who deigned join with the extras for instruction in the "tools of his trade"!

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It was around this time before our filming started that we began to meet other members of the cast and crew. The only "notable" actors involved on Glory, at least on a day-to-day basis, were Matthew Broderick ( for Ferris Bueler which probably still remains his best-known role, as witnessed by his recent Super Bowl commercial invoking the character ) and Cary Elwes ( whose The Princess Bride had been a recent smash hit ). Although Morgan had been nominated for an Academy Award playing a vicious pimp, it was in a little-known movie none of us had seen - I only of knew him as a long-time veteran of some kiddie show on tv ( The Electric Company ). Denzel Washington was also a veteran of a soap-opera-like "hospital" tv series, but I'd never watched it; all the others were virtual unknowns.

Readers probably are aware that movies are usually filmed out-of-sequence, the daily shooting schedule dictated by location and availability of certain actors who appear, film their part, and as suddenly are gone, often for good. To my knowledge, the very first scenes in Glory, filmed while we were at Ft. Jackson, were those of the party where Robert Shaw learns of the formation of the new regiment of black troops and that he is to be their colonel. That was shot in a neighborhood of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century houses in Savannah's large Historic District; the house was later featured in Keven Spacey's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and is the actual one where events in that modern Gothic horror story took place.

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Here during one of their breaks we first met both Matt Broderick and Cary Elwes plus a few others I no longer remember. There was grousing at first by other reenactors about Broderick, seen above later on Jekyll Island, who was thought to be both too young and too silly ( remembering Ferris Bueler ) to play Col. Robert Shaw; but I remembered he was actually the same age as Shaw - not to mention how much he resembled his character - and watching how seriously he seemed to take his role I soon decided he was well-cast. Elwes, seen below, remained something of a mystery though: he was unfailingly polite and friendly while he was on set, but due to the shooting schedule he was absent for long periods of time, during which there were rumors of wild parties; he seemed to have definitely done something to irritate the higher-ups causing other rumors that some of his scenes had been cut.

As for the other principals, Morgan remained down-to-earth, friendly and approachable and my favorite of the actors. Denzel Washington, who received a deserved Academy Award for his part, always seemed the consummate professional. Never around when he wasn't called for, always remaining in his trailer and fraternizing with no one, he was always ready and prepared when he was actually on set. ( This is in no way intended as a criticism: Daniel Day-Lewis shared these traits on Last of the Mohicans. ) Jimihi Kennedy was always cheerful and happy-go-lucky, but there were also rumors about his partying with Savannah locals that included drinking and drugs; I know nothing of the truth of any of this, apart from the fact that his career never really "took off" afterwards like others did. Andre Braugher has since gone on to make a name for himself on television, but at the time I thought he fit well within the "uppity" stereotype ( much like his character! ) and was the member of the cast I liked least.

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Movie-making is a very specialized and compartmentalized business; by that I mean often there's relatively little fraternization or communication outside one's own immediate area of concern. This will not be the place for very many "juicy" off-screen tidbits or "skinny" about the stars, for the simple reason that though we reenactors were around them on set, we did NOT "hang with" or associate with them otherwise. My view from here on will be a nuts-and-bolts one of my daily experiences as, I hope, an "intelligent observer" and low-level participant in the events described. I will first however make some general comments to introduce other important and often overlooked members of the production.

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In my photo above, snapped furtively on the Darien set, the figure in the white shirt at right is probably the single most important person involved in Glory, Producer Freddie Fields, without whom it is safe to say nothing would've happened! He was constantly on set solving a myriad of problems, helped in true Hollywood style by his very attractive and much-younger female "assistant". To the left, also in white, is the creative genius behind the camera, Director Ed Zwick, who only a few years ago recieved an Academy Award for directing. Another Academy Award receipient is seen at right in the red-and-white checked shirt, Englishman Freddie Francis, who received one in the category of Best Cinematography for Glory, one of the three it garnered. ( Morgan Freeman can also be seen in the background, center. ) Below is another Academy Award winner for Glory, Russell Williams, seated at center behind his controls who received it for Best Achievement in Sound. The man standing at left was cinematographer Freddie Francis' right-hand-man behind the camera; unfortunately I've forgotten his name.

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Next, our filming begins in earnest!
 
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thomas aagaard

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I later learned this was Morgan Freeman, who was the only one of the actors who deigned join with the extras for instruction in the "tools of his trade
My english fail me in this case.
Was he the only actor who did join you? or the only one who did not join you?
(I belive it is the first, but Iam not 100% sure)

But a great read. Please go on about Last of the Mohicans...
 
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James N.

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My english fail me in this case.
Was he the only actor who did join you? or the only one who did not join you?
(I belive it is the first, but Iam not 100% sure)

But a great read. Please go on about Last of the Mohicans...
Sorry about not being clearer - Morgan was the only actor who participated in drill with the rest of the company; the other actors recieved individual instruction, but I don't remember from whom - possibly Dale Fetzer. Learning as part of a group is best because it impresses on the learner the need for synchronization in close-order drill. Any more about Mohicans would be OT for here, but if you'd like to know more about it from my perspective:

http://www.mohicanpress.com/jim_neels_mohicanland.html
 
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CheathamHill

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Moarrr ...MOARRRR!!!!
Great stuff man.
And as an actor myself, it is often viewed by others that we are stand offish or loners etc..but really actors are there to do their jobs and do whatever it takes to bring themselves to the point where they are ready to work as their character. Method actors like Denzel, DDL, etc have very very specific ways of working that can be seen as 'odd' or 'weird' or even 'stand-offish'. But the end result is what you see: Amazing works of art!

All that rambling aside, this is a fantastic thread...update it early and often..absolutely LOVING the pictures!!
 

RobertP

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Exactly twenty-five years ago today when I returned home from my regular job working in the Housewares departmant at the Dallas Galleria Macy's I found on my answering machine a phone call I had been waiting for and one that would in many ways change my life: "James, how would you like to come to Savannah and teach young blacks how to be Civil War soldiers?" It was from my friend Ray Herbeck, Jr., who I had worked for before and who was to be one of the Associate Producers on a new movie project called Glory. This was the beginning of a three-month Odyssey , Feb. - Apr., 1989, that took me halfway across the continent to many different locations in coastal Georgia where filming took place. This part of my story will be ego-centric, but I thought it would be important to understand how this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came about.

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My friend and movie mentor, Ray Herbeck, Jr., on the set of another film, Legacy, filmed at Nauvoo, Ill., for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints .

By 1989 I was a veteran of over a dozen years reenacting,having begun in a local farb Confederate artillery unit, which underwent many changes becoming in turn an authentic Confederate artillery unit; then a Union artillery unit; and finally a Union infantry company! I therefore had experience in both infantry and artillery, and a growing wardrobe of likely "impressions". Our group began to be used as extras in projects like The Blue and the Gray and North and South, Part II, where I first met Ray Herbeck, a California reenactor who was serving as reenactor coordinator. Meanwhile, through all this I continued working at my job for fifteen years as an instructor in the Federal Job Corps program, working mainly with minority youth, ages 16 - 22. In 1986 I lost that long-time job, and was briefly adrift, but as the saying goes, When one door closes, another opens: when the next opportunity for movie work came along the following summer I was imminently available! This was an IMAX production called Alamo - The Price of Freedom filmed on John Wayne's old set for his The Alamo at Brackettville, Texas. Production lasted for a month, and this time I was working directly for Ray, as both Texan and Mexican, infantry and artillery, "commanding" for the first time my own company of "Mexican" infantry as well as scratch-built artillery crews. I also kept records of other reenactors working on the project for pay purposes and was cast in a small one-line part as one of the Alamo defenders.

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Above, as "Moses Rose" with actor Steve Sandor as the terminally ill "Jim Bowie" in a scene that was deleted from the finished film; below, leading my company in the assault on the Alamo.

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Returned to "normal" life, I looked forward as chairman of my reenactment group to attending the events of the 125th anniversary of the Civil War, and led the Union infantry component of our large organization at events like Corinth and Gettysburg. There I had an amalgamation of Western Federal reenactors from Texas, Arizona, and California, plus a few brand-new Pennsylvania locals, the smallest company in our so-called Third or U.O. Battalion, giving me additional valuable experience as a company commander. It was there at Gettysburg that the first scenes were shot for Glory and I inadvertantly wound up in one of them! I saw Ray standing amid a group of several others, one of whom turned out to be Glory's director, Ed Zwick, with a large shoulder-mounted Panasonic camera filming from a hilltop. I didn't approach them at the time, but later learned $10,000 had been paid to the Gettysburg organizers, Pat Massengill's Napoleonic Tactics, for rights to film raw footage of the event that was eventually used at the beginning of Glory as a prelude to the Antietam sequence. Only much later after repeated viewings did I finally notice myself among the troops with the Irish Brigade flag of the 28th Mass. marching past:

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After I digested Ray's fateful call, I returned it and found out shooting would begin the following week a thousand miles away in Savannah, Georgia! The next day I asked at Macy's about taking a leave of absence, but was told "We don't do that", so I went to the store manager who personally assured me that if I quit to do this, when filming was over he'd hire me back. Of course, I'd be starting all over again, but since I had only been there five months so far that was fine with me! So began my brush with glory - I credit the opportunity to my Job Corps experience teaching minority youth ( which I'd been sure to tell Ray about previously ); reenacting experience with Union and Confederate infantry and artillery; and prior work with Ray on other movie and TV projects. In later posts over the next several weeks I'll talk about my impressions of cast and crew and specifics about filming scenes throughout the movie.
James, 25 years ago I was working in an office in Galleria Tower I and would spend many lunch hours walking the mall. Macy's was one usually on the route and housewares was a regular stop. Small world.
 

James N.

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...All that rambling aside, this is a fantastic thread...update it early and often..absolutely LOVING the pictures!!
Thank you all for your votes of approbation! CheathamHill's post allows me another aside without having to insert it into the main body - I wanted to make my apology for the relatively poor quality of the photographs I actually took myself, or that were taken with my camera. At this time I had yet to obtain a proper 35mm and was "making do" with one of those cheap Kodak DISC cameras. Unlike some productions I've been on, I don't remember anything being said prohibiting cameras on set, but I thought I needed a small and compact one I could carry in the pocket of a sack coat or haversack and the DISC fit that requirement. Unfortunately, as a non-adjustable point-and-shoot camera its results were marginal at best and often grainy and indistinct; this will be increasingly obvious from here on as I have to rely more and more on my own photos, so please bear with me!
 
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Jamieva

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Yes I remember first seeing Glory as a teenager at age 17 and going...that's Ferris Bueller! As you said he was definitely most known for that role at that point.

However, he had a pretty extensive stage career in the early 80s before his movie career really got going and had been nominated for a Tony in 83. He still does a lot of stage work that's I think where he feels most comfortable.
 
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