ON THE TRAIL WITH ... MARK A. BAKER
Mark A. Baker has been mentioned and quoted elsewhere in our Mohican Musings by us and by others. If the name doesn't ring a bell ... well, widely recognized as one of the foremost authorities on 18th century woodsmanship, he had the distinct honor of teaching DDL the use of the musket. Mark is an author, living history re-enactor, a regular columnist for Muzzleloader magazine and can be seen in LOTM as Colonial Man - speaking "Hello Boys" as Hawkeye and the gang enter the fort and throughout the courier scene. We are pleased to be able to present his recollections here for you. For those of you who haven't yet ordered a copy of the Muzzleloader issue which features his original article & photos, go to A GREAT LOTM ARTICLE for ordering information. What follows here is a continuation and enhancement to that article, specially for this Web Site. We thank Mark immensely for his personal recollections and for their impact on this site!
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During a cold January day in 1991, I visited the dentist for an endurance test involving a root canal routine. After almost three hours in the dentist chair, I returned to my apartment hoping to nurse a swollen and numb mouth. I remember my head remaining numb for most of the day and dribble coming from my mouth, from the opposite side of the root canal at inopportune times for several hours after the procedure. Although I was supposed to be in my office at the college, I didn't want to talk with anyone in particular. However, the phone rang and before I could think about not answering, I picked up the phone and the next few minutes changed my life.
I don't mean to over-blow the situation, but in a way that phone call did, for Michael Mann had somehow heard about me and asked his research department, Julia Kabrinsky in particular, to call me. Michael Mann was just finishing up a month with Daniel Day-Lewis, Russell Means and Eric Schweig at an "anti-terrorist training camp" in Alabama (if my memory serves me correct about the location). The three future stars of Last of the Mohicans had spent their time staying at a hunting lodge of sorts at night, shooting a variety of modern weapons during the day and skinning a deer, building a shelter, throwing tomahawks and starting a fire with flint and steel. They combined machine guns and 9mm with primitive skills. But the anti-terrorists never taught Daniel Day-Lewis how to use his Killdeer in a believable manner as an eighteenth-century woodsman. Although Daniel carried the rifle with him all the time (actually one of the prototypes), 24 hours a day, the "professionals" did not know about running and reloading, cleaning the weapon, sighting in, varying the loads, etc. Mann's research department had gone looking, at Mann's bidding, for someone who could teach the actor how to run and reload at the same time. They called Scurlock Publishing Company and Bill Scurlock gave them my name and phone number.
In recounting the root canal and phone conversation episode, my good wife, Marlys, reminded me that I talked on the phone with Julia Kabrinsky (spelling?) for three hours. During that conversation, I tried to explain to her the process of loading a rifle in a traditional manner, plus the fine art of running and reloading a rifle. Ultimately, I reinforced the idea that both processes, but especially running and reloading should not be explained over the phone and it should not be tried without close supervision--for the process is by modern standards very dangerous and unwise. Julia seemed to respond to this notion and said that she would pass on the information to Michael Mann. She also gave me the address of Forward Pass Productions--then the name for Mann's preproduction company.
It's not every day that one gets a bonafide call from Hollywood, and so quite naturally, I had to share the story with someone. Actually, I think I shared it with as many people as would listen. But one friend in particular, Tom Allen, came up with the best idea. He said, "You know, Mark, these folks think visually, not textually, and we should make a video of you shooting and reloading quickly and then running and reloading at the same time." And that is how the plan started.
We checked out the video camera from the university English department and went up Blacksmith Fork Canyon just east of Logan, Utah, and spent a sunny Saturday filming the project. Fortunately for us, the weather had turned warm and we found a south facing valley floor that was free of snow. We did both shots in two takes and then went back to Tom's house to pick the best shots and make a copy to send to Mann's Hollywood office.
In looking back, I can remember not having set up the camera in the proper spot and thus not having enough room to run and reload for the camera. I was dressed in my eighteenth-century woodsman clothing and gear. It was cold enough that my fingers were numb, but we were all so charged from the experience that the cold really didn't bother any of us. After a couple of practice runs, we finally placed the camera at one end of a meadow where it would capture the entire sequence of shooting at the far end of the valley and reloading as I ran at the camera. With the help of my friends, we even incorporated a bit of acting--looking back over my shoulder as if chased, and beginning the shot with me kneeling behind a tree and shooting back into the shadows of the thick woods. On the second take of running and reloading, just after I ran off camera, my son Clint (who was 12 at the time) said quite loud, "He did it!" as if Clint never believed that his old man could actually do something so clever. With a bit of editing, we managed to keep his disbelief out of the final version we sent to Mann's office.
During the first take of the speed shooting and reloading sequence, I put my mouth on the muzzle of "Moriah" (my Jud Brennan rifle) with a bit too much enthusiasm and slammed my teeth into the cold and very hard muzzle. Whew! that hurt, and I had this sudden rush of anxiety that in my youthful na�vet� to make this little episode, I had just ruined about 2,000 dollars worth of caps and bridge work. That smack in the mouth helped me to calm down and the second take was much better and looked very smooth.
When shooting and reloading in a standing position, as fast as possible, I usually stand my wiping stick up against my waist. By shoving a bit on the rod, I can push it into the earth just enough to help the ramrod stand up straight and not fall over during the movements of loading and shooting. However, I had forgotten about the ground being frozen and on the first take, when I tried to gently but quickly push the rod into the earth, it bent like a bow being pulled for the arrow. I didn't notice how much it bent until we watched the tape back at the house.
Before I sent the tape out to Michael Mann on Monday, I timed my two shoots on the running and reloading sequence and the time between each of the shots in the standing and shooting sequence and included the data in a short, one page memo to Mann. In keeping with Tom Allen's note that such folks think visually, I tried to keep all written correspondence very short. But that rule of thumb would soon change as I got my next assignment in a few days from Mann's office.
I knew and I kept reminding myself that this call from Hollywood would mean nothing, that the movie business was always full of dreams and light promises. I kept telling myself to not hope anything, but to do what they ask, pursue the opportunities, but then not expect anything. For more than a decade, I had heard stories from all over the United States of reenactors being quizzed, promised, hired and then let down in one big way or another. I figured the same would probably happen to me. However, things soon accelerated.
I sent the tape off to Hollywood by overnight delivery. I figured I had better contact them as fast as possible and not let Mann's crew forget me. Sure enough it worked, for on Tuesday, while sitting in my office at the university, I received a phone call. I believe it was just before noon, for I had a hard time concentrating after the call and I needed the lunch hour to get my feet firmly planted on the ground once again. This time, Julia did not call me, but rather Michael Waxman, who was then Michael Mann's First Assistant Director. In typical Hollywood style, he said, "I hear you are the fastest gun in the West?" As were all conversations with the band of merry movie makers, this phone conversation was brief and Michael asked for some photos of my face, for "Michael Mann believes you really look like a woodsman in dress and manner, but he couldn't see your face in the video tape." As I listened to Mr. Waxman, I couldn't help but wonder what his motives were for saying such a line. Did he really believe it? I didn't know. I didn't know these people. But, chances never come if one does not see the sign and seize the opportunity. So, I contacted a photographer friend, had photos taken, sent them off by overnight delivery and expected to hear nothing more.
The next day, just before noon, I received another call, this time from the casting director Shirley Cromley. "Yes," she said, "Michael loved the photos and would like to know if you would be willing to work with Daniel Day-Lewis on running and reloading and when he didn't need you, he would like to have you in character as one of about a dozen woodsmen who fight with the frontier militia. You would be a featured extra."
"Okay, but what is a featured extra?" I said (still not expecting anything to happen).
"A featured extra is a select group of extras who are always in the foreground, close to the action, they always move along with the storyline," she confidently explained.
"Sounds good. Okay, I will do it. When do you need me?"
"Good . . . the first of March you need to be in Asheville . . . how much would you charge for working with Daniel?" she responded. Now things were becoming serious I thought, but I also knew that my next reply would be the critical one.
"Whatever is the standard scale for such services would be fine," I declared, trying to act confident but not cocky or hopeful.
"I believe we can work that out," she answered. I felt better, for the illusion would last a bit longer with such a response. "Do you have a minute longer?" she continued, "for Michael Waxman would like to ask you something." This was starting to sound promising I thought.
Waxman came on the phone and asked me if I would be willing to review the script for "historical accuracy?" Of course I agreed and by overnight delivery I soon had a script in hand.
I locked myself in my office and spent the day reading the script and writing a 15 page, single spaced response to the various scenes which I felt had some historical inaccuracies. I tried to be as polite as I could and always supplied evidence for my comments. I remember three scenes in particular: I explained that Joseph Brant was only five years old or so in 1757 and would not be yet a "chief," that bearskin mitre caps for the grenadiers did not become fashionable until 1766 (according to a letter written by the English trader George Morgan who was trying to trade for as many bearskins as possible that year--due to the king's recent order for such a fashion statement. The king's whim had driven up the prices of bearskins throughout North America. It's amazing the rippling effect of a king's idle wishes), and finally, I tried to explain how easily water ruins black powder. I offered suggestions that if it wasn't fantastic enough that Hawkeye could jump the falls and survive, let alone still have his rifle in one place, his powder would certainly be ruined. I offered several primary source materials which explained the habit of the hunters to cache extra powder and shot and shirts and etc., in various hollow trees or in rock overhangs in order to have supplies to fall back upon in case of ambush or disaster. With scores of suggestions, I sent off the lengthy response, but I kept the script, and figured I would hear nothing more. I figured that if anything, I had probably over-stepped my bounds.
But Michael Waxman called me the next day, and expressed his gratitude for such a detailed and thoughtful response to his request. Although I had not met him as of yet, I thought for the first time that he actually meant it. My guard thus went down a bit. Looking back, I don't think they changed a thing in the script, but the response did strike a chord with Waxman and Mann for a few months later I was in North Carolina standing in the rain and the heat and the wind and answering questions two or three times a week for seven straight weeks.
I have explained all of this to remind myself that dreams and surprises can happen. That experiences gained are often worth the chances taken. And I learned some lessons. I should know the "standard rate" for such services, for I did not get paid anywhere near the standard rate. When the time came, I should have negotiated, instead of saying, "okay, that sounds reasonable." I know now that I could have gotten more, but the whole process is like buying a used car. Just as I had paid too much for my first used vehicle, I did not take enough for my first services rendered to Hollywood. But as with the lessons learned the opportunities gained by having that first car, I would never trade the experiences I gained by going and working on the movie for a price far below the typical rate.
Forward Pass productions paid for my transportation to North Carolina. I had thought about flying (it was within their budget), but a neighbor, then a friend of mine, wanted to work in the movie too and asked if I couldn't speak to the casting director and get him a job as an extra. This led me to another one of my learning "mistakes." In the spring, I was told by the casting office that they wanted 10 or 12 excellent woodsmen to be that core of hunters who fought with Captain Jack and who escaped into the dark and thus caused Hawkeye's arrest the next morning. They wanted names and I then spent a weekend writing a letter to several of my friends--many of whom sent in their photos and self-descriptions. My heart was in the right place, for I was trying to share with my friends this opportunity. And the way it sounded, these woodsmen reenactors would be the "featured extras" Shirley Crumley had earlier referred to in our phone conversation. I guess I had visions of all the fun Ward Bond had with Henry Fonda in Drums Along the Mohawk or with Gary Cooper in The Unconquered. But by getting my friends involved, I learned some hard lessons. Lessons that I have carried with me until this day.
"What are they?" you ask. Well, first of all, the friend I brought into the picture from Utah did end up working as an extra, but upon his return to our town, he called up the newspaper and claimed he was the "technical advisor" for the movie and had trained Daniel Day-Lewis and worked as a consultant with the military. I did not know this interview happened or that it was indeed printed until a fellow English professor brought it by the my office and showed me--for that professor had once had this "friend" in a graduate class. I thought about what to do, and if I should let it go, but by Monday I called the newspaper and asked for the reporter and explained to her the situation. The reporter commented to me that she had neglected to ask for names and phone numbers so that she could verify the claims of the interviewee. I gave her a copy of my contract, and I gave her phone numbers of Forward Pass Productions and let her do her business. A week later the newspaper printed a rebuttal and included a quote from the publicity director that Mark Baker had been hired to train Daniel Day-Lewis. Needless to say, I have not seen this "friend" since the making of the movie--although I did receive an interesting letter under my office door soon after the rebuttal appeared. As a safe guard, I moved my family to another house, and we got an unlisted phone number until I finished graduate school and left the state.
And the second lesson I learned was a simple one. One that I learned privately and quietly. When I walked into the casting office in downtown Asheville and reported to the casting director that I had arrived safely from North Carolina, I noticed several photos of woodsmen I know hanging on the wall. Apparently, my letter writing campaign had encouraged a few to send in photos and write profiles as the casting office had earlier requested them to do. But as I listened to the comments of a few of the casting assistants, I realized that the photos were not on the walls for recruitment purposes but as a vehicle for making fun. Not knowing that I knew the folks on the wall, they proceeded to tell me what was "funny" to them. I did not like my friends being made fun of, especially when they did not know it, and especially when I had gotten them into the position of being mocked. By then (the first of July), I had learned that things change so quickly in the making of a movie and that what was once a good idea (the 30 or so key woodsmen who would be featured extras) can quickly become the dumbest idea 24 hours later. For the sake of not hurting anyone's feelings, or for the sake of not having my friends mistakenly think that I had set them up for abuse, I decided then and there to never recruit for Hollywood again. I liked my friends too much.
By June the first, the needs of the movie had changed and they no longer wanted hard-core woodsmen for the featured group, but they were going to rely upon locals who had the right hair and they would outfit them. Thus, all the letter writing by me and my friends came to largely no avail--except as the vehicle for joke making.
As I explained earlier, I had enough in travel allotment money to fly back to North Carolina, but with my friend wanting to get a job as an extra, I used my travel money to rent a car and we drove back to North Carolina together.
We arrived in Asheville on a Friday afternoon. We drove to my friends' house, a married couple, who had offered a bedroom in their house and one of their vehicles to drive while I remained in North Carolina. In the interest of privacy, I wish to keep their names out of the world-wide scope of the internet, but I must say that without the help of these two kind people who have always been so generous to not only me, but everyone they know, I would not have been able to manage at a profit in North Carolina. By opening up their home to me, and offering me their car, I was able to work on the movie at the salary which I had agreed to, but a figure which did not include lodging and transportation (I understand now two common elements of any consultant fee when working on a movie). Anyway, because I did not negotiate a figure and benefits (for fear of losing out on the deal altogether), this married couple made up the difference and gave me the opportunity to send all the money I made back home to my wife and children. I should stop for a moment too, and explain that out of all the great experiences I had while working on the movie, the thrill of sending back to my family all my money (which was much more than I made while teaching) was the biggest single sense of satisfaction for me. Even more than meeting Daniel Day-Lewis, or knowing that the Vice-President of 20th Century Fox called me by my first name when we briefly passed each other on the set, even more than looking Madeleine Stowe in the eye and having her smile while we shook hands. The biggest thrill was that I was taking care of my family, but once again, without the help of my two friends who live in North Carolina, I could never have sent back to my family all the money.
I did repay my North Carolina hosts, though, as much as possible, for on the weekends, I worked their yards by mowing acres of grass and picking apples from their orchards, pressing apple cider for hours on end. All fun, and all in the name of love for these two people. I even had the opportunity to aide them in their distress by digging the grave and burying one of their hunting dogs who had wandered off and gotten run over on the edge of the highway. I felt at that moment I had repaid them a fraction of their kindness when I placed their dog tenderly in the ground. Although a sad evening was spent in the caring of their fallen servant, I will always remember that chance to repay them.
After picking up the borrowed car, the Utah friend and myself drove back to Asheville and turned in the rented car. We ran into some troubles there and it was only a foreboding hint of the things to come with this Judas of mine. Enough said.
Michael Mann was out scouting locations on Friday afternoon and again early Saturday morning. I had returned early that morning, hoping to catch him at the offices before he got busy, but not realizing the energy of that man, I had arrived at 8:00 and Mann was already long gone out in the field scouting here and there. I had met an old friend the day before, and I saw him again Saturday morning. We had been friends for a long time (first meeting at Fort Loudoun, Tennessee) before we both found employment on the movie together. His presence was certainly a comfort for me, even though that familiar lead weight had already settled in my stomach as I began to wonder if I should have come to North Carolina on a flimsy verbal agreement.
I remember walking up to the production office, back down to the casting office, over to the military cadre office, out on to the street and standing by the Cafe on the Corner. I was just killing time, waiting for Michael Mann to return, but also to ease my nerves as I kept telling myself that everything would work out and all would be okay. Matters did not come together, though, until Michael Mann showed up late in the afternoon of that first Saturday.
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Last Update: 09/03/2005