WASHINGTON – Inside the Confederate White House in Richmond,Va.,producer and director Robert Child brought to life the scene he envisioned for his film,with just a few restrictions imposed by the museum.
“We signed a contract – there was lots of insurance involved,” Child said about the four hours he and his crew were allotted to film inside the actual room where the Confederate army made the decision to move to Gettysburg. “We had specific instructions not to lean or sit on anything.”
Child's film,“Gettysburg Three Days of Destiny,” is as historically accurate as it could be more than a century after the battle. The 86-minute film was shown at the D.C. Independent Film Festival last week,and Child said he got chills watching his film on the big screen for the first time.
“There's a built-in audience of history buffs here in Washington,” Child said,noting that as one of the reasons he entered the festival. He said he has also entered festivals in Toronto,New York,Boston,Miami,Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Child's film was one of the 115 chosen from more than 1,000 entries from local,national and international directors for the District's festival.
The Gettysburg Anniversary Committee commissioned the film,and with both direct and indirect costs,Child said the film cost close to a million dollars.
“There's security,EMTs,catering – all the peripheral stuff you don't see,” Child said about things that escalate the cost.
All of the battles were filmed over three days with six cameras. Child said everything was shot in 24P,a relatively new technology in which the tape moves at film speed and gives the illusion of cinema shutter. Film enthusiasts discussed the advantages of 24P during the weeklong festival.
Child,who lives in Washington Crossing,Pa.,said the film took about five months to shoot and about a month and a half to write.
“When I write a period piece like this,listening to soundtracks from ‘Glory' and other epic films helps write a bigger story to me,” Child said. “I can't write in silence.”
Child found Nicholas Palmer,the composer for the film's soundtrack,over the Internet,and to this day Child and Palmer have never met.
“An original composer makes all the difference – it elevates it so much,” Child said.
Child worked in television for 20 years before trying his hand at independent filmmaking. He said film shoots drag on much longer than in television.
“I didn't stop for anything unless it was a downpour rain,” Child said about his television days. “Film is just maddening. This doesn't take all day to do.”
Child said,however,the actors in the film appreciated his “efficiency.”
“I think I'm good at getting everyone excited – I inspire people,‘Let's read this through and talk this out,'” Child said.
Child advertised for voice-over parts and set up his Web site so actors could read a paragraph that would go into his voicemail.
“People want to get into film so bad – I had women calling up doing General Lee,” Child said.
Child said many of the actors are living historians. “These guys live and breathe these parts,they don't just put on the uniforms and not know anything,” he said.
Actor Patrick Falci,who played Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill in both this film and in the 1993 film “Gettysburg” waived any fee for the film,Child said. Actor James Choate,who was in “Gods and Generals,” plays Confederate Gen. George Pickett.
But some,including Brian Egbert,are not professional actors.
“The guy who plays [Maj.Gen. John B.] Gordon is not an actor at all – he's an auto mechanic,” Child said. “I had the real actors shoot their scenes first,and Brian went last so he was inspired by their performance and wanted to bring his up to that level.”
Another historical aspect in the film is the friendship born between Gordon,a Confederate,and Union Maj. Gen. Francis C. Barlow.
At Gettysburg,Gordon came across an injured Barlow and gave him a drink from his canteen. Barlow asked that if Gordon ever met Barlow's wife that he tell her his last thoughts were of her. But Barlow did not die,and years later he heard of the death of a General Gordon. Each thought the other was dead and was more than surprised when they met 15 years later.
“In the scene where they grasp hands over the table – you're kind of sucked into the moment. You feel like you're there,” Child said. “Gettysburg just pulls you in.”
Child,41,graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a film degree and history minor,and his interest in film stems from his childhood.
“I used to make stupid 8mm movies in the back yard,” Child said. “I made ‘GUMS,' which was a take-off of ‘JAWS.' It was complete with a rubber shark in a pool.”
Child has come a long way from the 8mm days – Artistry Entertainment,which is distributing the film,thought he used 35mm film. Child said company officials were surprised when he told them it was video. The film will be available to rent beginning June 15.
Child is working on another Civil War era film,“The Calico Boys.”
“It seems I'm stuck in Civil War for a while longer,” Child said.