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American Civil War

Character History

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Directing Vernon Aldershoff in Justice Is Mind.

The booking came through last week. I was cast as a NAZI officer in the upcoming feature film The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot. Other than the aforementioned designation, I didn’t know much about the part itself or even the film. Researching the film was easy enough, but the part remained elusive until I arrived on set.

Whether it’s a film of my own or one I’m cast in, I always arrive early. For me I like to get the lay of the land and get oriented to the surroundings, cast and crew. I knew this part was going to involve some sort of action when I found myself in hair and makeup getting a 1930s haircut. After being outfitted, I then learned what my part entailed.

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Margaret Miller discovers a dark family secret in Justice Is Mind.

For reasons of confidentiality I can’t divulge specifics. But let me just say this, my studies of World War II history, and in particular the rise and fall of The Third Reich, helped enormously. I only had to be told what the scene entailed and I understood what was involved with my character. I knew from that moment the mindset I had to find myself in and play it accordingly. There is no half way of playing a character like this, it must be 110% for authenticity. That moment of character happens when you put the uniform on to understand what it represented. At the end of the day we must never forget the atrocities of history dare they be repeated in the future.

As a filmmaker I was particularly impressed with the level of detail the director brought to this scene. He probably knew that certain details wouldn’t be seen on camera. But my guess is it wasn’t about that, it was about the actors believing they were in the moment. It is that type of detail that places directors like Robert D. Krzykowski above so many. It’s directors like this that you want to work with and give a performance that’s worthy of the efforts of so many on both sides of the camera. When the scene wrapped he thanked us all for being part of it.

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An 80 year conflict is resolved between father and son in Justice Is Mind.

When this scene was being produced I naturally couldn’t help but thinking of the time I directed Vernon Aldershoff in Justice Is Mind when he played a NAZI officer. I remember to this day the countless details from the uniform I ordered along with the action of the story itself. You only know if you got it right after it premieres. It was after the international premiere on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth when a few Jewish women came up to me after the screening to comment positively on how I struck the balance between that moment in history and the conclusion of the film.

The entire process of filmmaking is designed to provoke emotions. We either enjoy a film or we don’t. It’s called free will. Like we don’t burn books, we don’t ban movies. When Deadline reported that Gone with the Wind, in which Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award, was pulled from a theater in Memphis, TN because it was deemed insensitive, it’s clear that this theater and its patrons don’t want to understand history or the signal their action sends. Once you start going down this slippery slope, a return can be next to impossible.

By example I find, with the exception of Brokeback Mountain, most gay films to be ridiculous. It’s the same stereotypical story film after film after film. So you know what my answer is? I don’t watch them. There’s no mandate that because I’m gay I have to watch and support gay films.  We either watch films that interest us or don’t watch. But the last thing we do is ban and sensor. Because there is one thing I do want–

Choices.

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My favorite film of all time.


An Exposition in Time

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World War II reenactors.

And so the new season started with a bang—literally.  Yesterday I attended the Massachusetts Military History Exposition in Orange, MA. This is the second year this group produced this show. While last year focused on World War II, this year’s outing represented a timeline of military history.  My favorite group was those representing the 16th century.

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Das Geld Fahlein

The group from the year 1528 called “Das Geld Fahlein” offered an excellent history on how troupes from those days were organized, compensated and fought. Imagine you are a knight in “shining armor” on a horse galloping towards several hundred of these 30 foot long spears and other types of sword defenses. It may have been low-tech even by 1528 standards but it did what it had to do—stop the enemy.

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World War II German field communications

Another area of interest to me has been about communications and infrastructure during World War II. I talked to a few reenactors at the German camp about some technical aspects of how they communicated back then. The distance limitation in radio communication and the shelf life of the field batteries was very interesting. Needless to say, there’s always something new to learn at these events.

Of course the highlight of these types of events are the battle reenactments.  While “Hollywood” would have multiple takes over a period of days if not weeks to shoot something like this, this is a one take moment. Once the action starts it just keeps going until there’s a victor.  Yesterday was also the first time I used Facebook Live. I broadcast the World War II battle and had viewers all over the country. You can watch the video at this link.

But through all the uniforms and equipment of wars long past, there is the educational component of these events that’s so important. It is through events like this that one learns about the issues of those times and what brought yesterday’s societies to conflict and then peace. Like my experiences last year attending these events, it’s the reenactors that bring them to life. Their depth of knowledge and passion is what makes for a most enjoyable experience.

As so many of my projects have some sort of military component to the story, while I have a great time at these events, it’s all about networking and learning about the talent involved. Why on earth would I seek to hire actors, get costumes and source equipment from the ground up if I could reach out to one of these groups?

Planning.

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Old Glory

 


Cars, Coffee and Forts

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A 1958 Rolls Royce at the Cars & Coffee at Rosecliff event.

The title of this week’s blog pretty much sums up my day yesterday in Newport, RI. No, I wasn’t back at the Naval Justice School, it was literally a day trip of cars, coffee and forts. With the warm weather back here in New England (for the most part), this is the time of year when I look for interesting day trips on the weekends.

The Preservation Society of Newport County and Audrain Automobile Museum teamed up for a terrific event at Rosecliff that brought together cars and coffee (thankfully it was Starbucks!). The one thing about car enthusiasts is we are passionate people. Yes, conversations start around a particular vehicle but then generally migrate to other topics.  In the end we learn something new. In this connected (yet disconnected) electronic age we live in, events like this get us out of the house and into social settings.

Passion was also evident when I took a tour of Fort Adams. I’ve seen the signs for years pointing towards Fort Adams, but finally visited yesterday. The history of this fort is beyond impressive. From its founding, to how it was constructed to its unique place in American history, our tour guide was not only a wealth of knowledge but enthusiastic. I can’t recall when a tour guide conveyed such a diverse amount of information during a tour.

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The entrance to Fort Adams.

It is about passion how things move forward. If you’re one of those people that live in a “someday” world, you will miss out on things that inspire. When I travel, meet new people and learn something new that’s just one more idea for something I might build or create at some point. Rosecliff, built from a fortune made long ago, is now visited by tens of thousands a year. Fort Adams, built to defend the United States and known for its technical innovation is now being showcased by guides who share its enthusiastic history in a modern world.

Creating does take time and nothing happens overnight. The one thing that’s important is to surround yourself with people that are supportive. I know that sounds like some sort of off the shelf self-help book, but it’s true. It’s OK that you might not share my vision or passion for something, but you’ll forgive me if I steer my ship past your port.

Putting aside for a moment what drives our motivations to create, yesterday was also about the preservation of history. In parts of our world where museums and heritage sites have been destroyed by terrorism, yesterday reminded me about the importance of preserving history for future generations. So while you may read about history in a textbook, there’s nothing like experiencing it in real life.

Tour.

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A panorama view of Fort Adams.


I’m An American

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Yes, I am an American and proud of it. But it’s also dialogue from one of my favorite films Citizen Kane. Here’s a film made in 1941 by a 25 year old director by the name of Orson Wells. Citizen Kane is arguably one of the greatest films ever made. The film was controversial at the time because it was largely discussed that it was about William Randolph Hearst who owned an empire of newspapers. Hearst was so enraged by the film’s perceived comparison to his life that he made countless efforts to ban it.

July 4, 2015 – Independence Day here in the United States. Unless you live under a rock or just arrived from another planet, the world knows the fierce patriotism that engulfs our entire nation during this time, and rightly so.  To be an American means to be able to have a voice. A voice of expression without fear of persecution from the state.

But it is the state of the film and TV industry in our country that perhaps gives us the greatest voice around the world. Yes, we have the world’s largest and best military and we forever give thanks to the men and women in uniform that defend the ideals of this country here and abroad. But it is our entertainment industry that shines a light on what it is to be an American. No matter your station in life, your political or religious beliefs, there is a film or TV series for you.

Orson Wells as Citizen Kane.

Orson Wells as Citizen Kane.

Those that know me, know what I like when it comes to my viewing pleasure. I tend to gravitate to films that tell a story with larger than life characters, but also ones that have some sort of message (apologies to Louis B Mayer).  Films that highlight World War II and the Cold War tend to get my attention as they present the human spirit against the conflicts of mankind as they look to sort out the trials of hope against tyranny. But the one thing I have a zero tolerance for is the banning of films or TV shows.

When Judgment at Nuremberg was made it set forth to illustrate the atrocities of World War II that were perpetrated by judges in NAZI Germany.  Was the film controversial? Yes, in some circles. But where did the film have its world premiere? Berlin, the former capital of the Third Reich that is now the capital of a unified Germany. My point? As controversial as it may have been at the time, it was important to present the film in a setting to spark conversation because if there is one lesson we must never forget from World War II is – to never forget.

Spencer Tracy, Ray Teal, William Shatner and Maximilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.

Spencer Tracy, Ray Teal, William Shatner and Maximilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.

In the United States these past couple of weeks, we have had to sadly relive the horrors of a Civil War that ended 150 years ago after the execution of innocents at a church in Charleston. At issue, of course, is the Confederate Flag. In my view it represents sedition and the enslavement of a people. To the view of others it represents a way of life that has long past. While I most certainly don’t condone the flag of another country (one we defeated) flying over United States state capitol buildings, the outright ban of it and pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t helping the larger conversation. Sadly, our country was founded on slavery. It is part of our history that so many want to forget, but we cannot forget. We cannot erase our history, but we learn from it the best we can and try to form a more perfect union.  But when TV Land reacted by pulling the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard this past week, that wasn’t the answer.

My favorite movie of all time - Gone With the Wind.

My favorite movie of all time – Gone With the Wind.

History teaches us what happened when a certain country started to burn books, films and destroy artwork.  If you don’t know what the country was, it was referenced earlier in this post. As Americans we cherish our right to choose, our right to live life free from oppression. My favorite film is Gone With the Wind. Yet, the calls to have that film banned by the overzealous is just an ignorant reaction. And to be frank, I don’t give a damn about those voices.

This is America. We don’t ban films and TV shows if we don’t like them we simply don’t watch them. I can tell you I find plenty of films and TV shows offensive, I’m not going to launch a boycott. I’m simply not going to support them. Do we really want to bring back the Hayes Code? Do we want to go back to McCarthyism?  Do we want to be oppressed? I think not.

But putting aside my position on freedom of speech and expression, I have had the good fortune to be able to travel a good part of this small “pale blue dot” of a planet we live on called Earth. Indeed, our planet is a fragile one as is our society. One that we must all take care of. But throughout all my travels, there is a certain pride I feel when I pull out my passport or tell people where I’m from.

The United States of America.

Earth. As seen from NASA's Cassini spacecraft through Saturn's rings on July 19, 2013

Earth. As seen from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft through Saturn’s rings on July 19, 2013.