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... Part IV

The Ass in the Lion's Skin

Another of my favorites - The Fort at DawnPart III dealt mainly with "errors of omission"; the sort of things that happen through ignorance, misinformation, accident, or circumstance. I'd like to turn now to things that were done deliberately, sometimes for what may have seemed at the time like a good reason; other times out of bull-headedness, stupidity, or even motives of personal gain or advancement. These are what I consider "errors of commission"; and they happened repeatedly, with varying degrees of harm being done. Starting at the top, one incident I was a part of was to have an impact on the sound quality of certain scenes.
You may recall, I had been told early on that I was being "saved" for use in scenes of the French camp. This translated to being a guest at General Montcalm's dinner table; and later in the surrender of the fort, commanding his garde d'honneur. I'll mention here that it's only in the latter scenes that I can be very briefly seen in the extreme left corner of the screen, hatless in salute like Montcalm, as Munro leads the English out of the fort. There are cuts to Cora searching the crowd for Nathaniel, and of him and the others in chains; but it comes back twice to the marching column, with me down in the corner. It's only in widescreen VHS or DVD formats that I show up at all, since I'm so far left of camera. Inside the tent, I'm barely seen in the shadowy interior sitting at table along with the actor playing Levis. In the VHS version, different camera angles were used, so I'm not seen at all. So much for Stardom! But filming these scenes allowed me to see things a lot "closer up", nearer the camera.
As usual for night scenes like this in Montcalm's tent, filming began around dark, and continued into the wee hours. I heard later that once again Michael Mann managed to make an enemy, this time Patrice Chereau, the French actor/director who was playing Montcalm. I didn't attempt to talk to Chereau during the filming, since I'd heard he didn't speak English; and my French is so bad, it's only useful for very basic reading, not conversation. He seemed in control throughout the seemingly endless takes and retakes; but I understand he was inwardly seething. This was his last night on set, out in the middle of nowhere at the Lake James site, and supposedly he had an early morning flight from the small Asheville airport. As usual, Mann did retake after retake; so it wasn't until nearly dawn that we "wrapped" for the day.
The negative effect this particular incident had is evident in the finished film. It is usual, particularly in outdoor or very large scenes, to "loop" ( record ) the dialogue of the principal actors in a later recording session, so their voices can be inserted on a separate track to ensure sound clarity. It's often not apparent how necessary this will be until the "rushes" or "dailies" come back from processing, sometimes days after they are shot. If you listen carefully during the Parley scene between Montcalm and Munro, you can HEAR the wind rustling against the overhead boom microphones! ( Notice how the flags are billowed out. ) Also, listen to how "muddy" the dialogue sounds, especially Montcalm's. This scene, and maybe others as well between Montcalm and Magua, SHOULD have been looped; but supposedly Chereau was so angry over the inconsideration shown by the endless retakes, he refused any further participation in the film. I don't know if he made his flight or not!
A few asides concerning this scene. My great part consisted of sitting all night slowly cutting and eating chicken and rice, which had been prepared by the "food stylist", a reenactor girlfriend of one of our core group whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. When we broke for our hour meal, around one o'clock in the morning, I stayed on the set since all I'd been doing was eating! ( And it was good, too; though she joked about the "chamber pot pie" they had her cook earlier for the Cameron's Cabin scene, due to the broken crock they wanted her to cook it in! ) Also, there is in this scene a "cameo" by Mann's replacement photographer, Dante Spinotti, who Mann thought it would be funny to work in as the French priest leading the choir of Huron children.
As I've said earlier, the idea when we first formed the "military core" was that CAPTAIN Dale Dye would "train" us; then WE would train and lead the several hundred other soldiers, mainly reenactors, who would join us for the very large scenes of fort and massacre, and to an extent that's what happened. Once having "graduated" Boot Camp, we were now addressed by the Good Captain as "Sergeant"; I was usually "Gunney", as in Gunnery Sergeant. ( Notice NEVER "Captain" or "Lieutenant", though we were now responsible for our own companies. ) I usually oversaw the artillery crews in the background of scenes; and this allowed me to witness other gaffes. One of the new artillery reenactors on one of my gun crews wore his own correct period British artilleryman's uniform, ( the ONLY one on set! ) one night filming in the fort; and was immediately told by Waxman or one of the other PA's he could NOT be in the scene, and was never to wear that uniform again! Why?, you ask - Because it was BLUE; and so might CONFUSE the audience! ( Uniforms of British artillery and engineers were dark blue, so as not to show the grime from the black powder ammunition as easily, with red facings of cuffs, lapels and turnbacks. ) Dear readers, if you saw a man clad in blue inside a fort being bombarded by the French, would that confuse you? Would you automatically assume he had parachuted in as a spy? Would you even NOTICE him?!
Note Sunburst "face" on breech of gunAnother night the scenes of loading and firing the French mortars was filmed, but I couldn't possibly tell you when it was. It seems nobody thought to inform the supposed "artillery coordinator" of what he thought was probably the single most impressive military scene in the whole movie! Fortunately, they got most of the details of it right; except for the uniforms, as usual: French artillery uniforms were a lighter blue, as already described in how wardrobe was able to make them from the drummers' habites or coats; but they were worn over RED vestes and breeches! Of course, the usual blue of the infantry were used instead - I'm sure THAT would have "confused the audience"; they would have thought the British were bombarding their own fort! ( Come on - are you guys really as stupid as they think you are? ) Another of my contributions to the production is evident in this scene anyway, though. Early on I'd mentioned to the guys in props they needed to get some plumb bobs, or surveyor's levels; when they asked why, I explained that it was with those that the mortars were layed, or aimed. My friend the reenactor infantry officer Steve Abolt did a fine job simulating the aiming using one of the three they went out and bought. You might ask why the "artillery coordinator" would be excluded from so important a scene; I certainly did. I found out the reason during the filming of another scene with cannon, this time inside the fort.
Most scenes involving anything really hazardous, like explosions, etc. were usually done by the stuntmen, not us reenactors. ( In fact Mickey Gilbert, the head of stunts, had given the members of the core group rudiments of stunt training so as to avoid accidents when we did hand-to-hand fighting.) This time the shot was to be of the English cannon aimed into the French sap ( trench ) being blown up by counter-battery fire. But the crew of stuntmen needed to be filmed aiming and firing the gun as well. "Gunney Neel, take charge of THOSE guns!", ordered the Good Captain Dye; indicating the ones AROUND THE CORNER from where they were filming, which would only be heard and not seen. We waited as usual for what seemed forever; so I decided to see what was going on. It seemed the stuntman gunner ( the commander of the piece ) had asked the Good Captain if he could have some real commands to give his crew for their drill. After a bit of a pause, he was told to say: "Swab out the bore." - " Aim" - "Stand by." Needless to say, NONE of those is correct! ( Any REAL artilleryman will tell you that "swab" is what sailors do to their decks! ) The last sounds good - for VIETNAM! It would have taken seconds to get ME, who wrote the drill we used; but it was FAR more important to ALWAYS appear to everyone as the sole font of military knowledge. Never mind accuracy, when your reputation is at stake! I sidled up to him unseen and said quietly, "Captain, that's 'Make ready'." "Oh, yeah - yeah, 'Make ready'!
A friend of mine had the dubious honor of working with the Good Captain subsequently on The Rough Riders; but fortunately for him, NOT as part of the Dye-trained "core group". He was instead the officer of the reenactor "New York Militia" unit. He said Dye did nothing but belittle them in the familiar effort to raise the morale of his own men, a regular ploy of group dynamics. I believe reenactors like us are a threat to the little niche he has made for himself as "Military Consultant to the Stars", since we certainly know more about ANY period ( except maybe Vietnam ) than he does; and as was amply shown in productions without him like Glory and Gettysburg where the reenactors ran their own affairs, minus his unnecessary "help". Needless to say, any vestigial respect I might have accidently retained for him was gone completely after that incident in the fort; and I only looked forward to his departure, which was about a week prior to completing the Massacre scenes.
In a sort of odd postscript to this story, and somewhat confirming my tentative position as "artillery coordinator"; I received a call several months after filming was complete from a very nice lady who introduced herself as some sort of assistant to the production.  She had gotten my name ( from where I don't remember ) as someone who knew the commands for the artillery.  It seemed they needed to "loop" some of those scenes so the commands could be heard more clearly!

Fort William Henry
The Fort at Dawn As gunner - photo taken by Mickey Gilbert Interior during day filming Guns on the wall
Practicing for the "diversion" scene; Steve Abolt as Serjeant, left front rank. View from the walls during the "diversion" for the Courier; I'm with the French troupes background The French Siege Lines - note how it's built up on platforms! Ditto, showing the Lake
With my "wards" Actual Polaroid used for continuity by the Prop department - At Montcalm's table with "Levis" and servant; notes are coded to scene As Montcalm's Adjutant

... Part V

- a Reenactor's Perspective

Back to OneBefore leaving Fort William Henry for Massacre Valley, I'd like to relate an incident that happened due to poor communication and the compartmentalization I've referred to. The relative isolation of the various components tends to foster an "Us against Them" attitude, regardless of the groups involved. Coupled with what may be viewed as favoritism or unfair treatment the result can be disruptive, as with the so-called "strike" by the Indians; or a balky attitude, resulting in a lack of cooperation. This happened in regards to a particular "extra" who appeared among us one day. Those of us who had been working now a month or more as the "military core" were surprised to see a new face among the French officers in the person of a handsome and immaculately attired young man. He walked up to us, introduced himself, and said he'd been told to stay with the French officers because he'd been told Michael Mann might use him for a featured part, even though he'd just been hired as an extra! Perhaps needless to say, we regarded this "with a jaundiced eye", thinking it just so much hot air from this unknown local. Though not really abusive, we gave him the "cold shoulder" ignoring him so completely and effectively, that after a day or two he simply disappeared; we never saw him again after that. Naturally, it turned out later that his "cock-and-bull story" was TRUE; this would probably have been Montcalm's aide de camp, Bougainville!
james-maurice --  Col. Munro and his "new" AdjutantIt seems whoever had been given the part by the casting office in California had appeared on set after making the trans-continental flight; only to be seen by Mann and discharged on the spot. Of course, nobody bothered to tell us, except this brand-new extra himself! His lack of persistence resulted in the same sort of last-minute scramble like that over Montcalm's costume. Suddenly a replacement for the replacement Bougainville had to be found; where better to look than among the reenactors who had been faithfully discharging their duties all along. Our ranks were scouted, and the two most likely candidates were taken to wardrobe and make-up to be prepared for Michael Mann to choose between. Both can be seen in my photo showing seven reenactors in British uniform posing for my camera during a break: one is in the center of the back row, wearing a Grenadier's bearskin; the successful candidate is kneeling to the left in his shirtsleeves. Unfortunately, though he had several lines in both the scenes in Montcalm's tent as well as the Parley; he was "looped" or overdubbed by a voice actor during the sound editing, so you do not hear his actual voice. But most importantly, he was paid union scale as an actor for the days he actually appeared on set as Bougainville, and receives screen credit for the part! Along with Levis, he appears on horseback at Montcalm's side during the surrender of the fort.
This is an example of one of a relatively few "success stories" that can happen during filming; the reenactor's lot is usually far more dismal: long hours, low pay, indifferent food and snacks, uncaring or arrogant PA's. Most of us in the Military Core were reenactors of one sort or another; but not all had French and Indian, Colonial, or Revolutionary experience. You might wonder why only those with that sort of background weren't used in this capacity; a large part of that lay in availability. All of us had committed ourselves for the three months necessary for the military portion of the production; the Indians worked even longer! Eventually we were joined by several hundred additional reenactors for the very large scenes at the fort and Massacre Valley. The production had on hand some two hundred Charleville muskets and troupes de la Marine uniforms; and a like number of Brown Bess muskets and British uniforms. In the "surrender of the fort" scene, all were used one way or another, some on crew members or even Indians! In fact I had to go around reclaiming the gold-laced French habites in order to use them for Montcalm's Garde d'Honneur; one husky Huron didn't want to give his up until I'd found him a replacement!
These large numbers were generally an exception. That meant groups or even single reenactors were continually coming and going, as required by the shooting schedule; and that as modified by the weather. Dale Fetzer's chief function became that of the contact person who struggled to keep the flow going as needed. The added reenactors generally brought their camp gear and set it up in campgrounds provided for their use during their off-screen time, much as had been done on Glory and other productions I had been on. They worked for varying lengths of time, according to the schedule and their own availability; being paid, as I noted earlier, only for their time on set. Most of the Colonial, French and Indian, and Revolutionary reenactors were used in this way. It is now impossible for me to say, aside from the core group, exactly in what capacity or during which scenes most individual reenactors took part. One exception to this is a friend of mine, Steve Abolt, who though not a colonial-period reenactor, is generally known as "Mr. Early-Nineteenth Century". ( War of 1812, Seminole War, Texas Revolution, and Mexican War ) He can be seen in my photo of the British grenadiers rehearsing for the "Heyward's Diversion" scene before the fort, at the end of the front rank carrying a halberd, or sergeant's polearm. It was he who actually led the group in the intricate maneuvers getting in and out of the trenches. Of course, there was someone else on the set all-too-ready to take the credit for that maneuver, as he did for all things military!
When reenactors first began to be used by the film industry, no one knew what to expect; neither the reenactors nor the film-makers. I remember how baffled Andrew McLaglen and his crew were on The Blue and the Gray, at how quickly and effortlessly we were able to maneuver around their little battlefield. They were able to get much more done than they'd planned because the scenes went more quickly than they'd expected; and seemed very grateful for it! But by Mohicans, I think things had gotten to a point where we were ( and doubtless still are ) considered just another commodity, like the OTHER livestock; to be exploited whenever or wherever possible. It was partly for this reason that this was to become my final experience with movie making.  From what I heard at the time, and have read in other accounts here, the Indian extras felt much the same as we did. At no time as I am aware of, though, did we have anything other than a businesslike relationship with either the "Huron Core" or any of the other Indian extras. It was a little different for the so-called "Colonial Militia", however; I think there was a bit of resentment toward them. They were held to a very different standard of "authenticity"; and as far as I am aware contained NO reenactors, only local extras. Mann had been quite specific with Fetzer regarding the appearance of the military reenactors: no overweight, out-of-shape, bearded or mustachioed soldiery! And we generally agreed with this; but one look at the "militia" or what has been called the "Farby Frenchmen" in the Burial Ground scene will show the inaccurate double standard. In fact, in this period beards or moustaches were generally frowned upon by all society; even on the frontier. Comments were made at the time about the "militia" looking like a bunch of bikers!

Massacre Valley ... part 1
Inside the Makeup Tent on the Last Day of Filming As the Adjutant  My little company brings up the rear
Benton Jennings as Officer of the 42d Highlanders Serjeant John Dall of the 42d John with Col. Munro
How We Spent Most of Our Time; or What Filmmaking is all About Highland Grenadiers form part of the column Serjeant Tom Tucker

... Part VI

The Last of Last of ...

Members of the Military Core Group at Massacre ValleyDuring the filming I "lived" in at least four different motels for the duration: the first week at Asheville's Econo Lodge; then a month at the somewhat shabby but cheap Thunderbird, seen in my photos; a week or so at the Pixie Inn near Linville Falls; then back to the Thunderbird for the remainder of the time filming in or near Asheville. But when the production moved out to the Lake James area for the fort and massacre scenes, I also moved, so as to avoid the long commute. My final residence was the small, neat New Carolina, on the highway near Morganton. According to my datebook for the period, we then spent the next three weeks working nights shooting scenes in and around the fort.
Night filming is about the worst, regardless the production. I have had to endure it to one degree or another on this, Glory, and The Alamo - The Price of Freedom, since all involved night battles and other scenes. The day usually begins sometime in the mid-afternoon, with "breakfast"; followed by the drive to the set. I well remember on one such trip to the fort on the dirt track through the National Forest surrounding Lake James, passing Daniel Day-Lewis wearing only his shorts and running shoes, running alone in the opposite direction. His stamina and dedication was truly amazing; and that plus his status served to somewhat isolate him from everyone else. Once on set, I'd proceed to wardrobe to collect whatever uniform was appropriate for the day or evening's shooting. Then to make-up, where at the least, our hair was rolled on the sides; those whose hair was long enough had it put in a wrapped qeue or ponytail. Mine, though I had grown it out since first learning of the filming, was never long enough in back; and so I always wore a false one, or an empty bag attached in back if I was an officer. I tended to always try to get the same two hairstylist ladies, who worked fast and without pulling my hair! On the last day, I photographed one of them working on one of the Highlanders; the photo is in one of the galleries.
Filming might begin around dusk, the so-called "magic hour" when all such scenes representing dawn or dusk must be shot. There was usually some sort of meal available when we arrived; but "lunch" was usually not until around midnight or 1 AM. Filming would continue an hour later, lasting possibly until dawn of the next day. With such a schedule, it is no wonder that everyone was soon groggy and on edge. Maurice Roeves, in his first scene as Col. Munro, had some trouble one evening delivering his line welcoming Cora and Alice to the fort amid the French bombardment; this may have been in part due to the stress we were all under. This was the only time I was aware of any such problem by any member of the cast, and it was temporary. When we finally would get the "wrap" for the evening, I would dash for wardrobe to get out of my uniform, while pulling the bobby pins and rollers out of my hair. Then I tried to get out of the parking area as quickly as possible to make the return trip to the New Carolina. If I was lucky, I would get back before full daylight; it's hard for me to go to sleep unless it's dark. One morning I was very angry because I had a rider, another reenactor who was also staying at the motel. He had dragged his feet getting away from the set, and I'm now ashamed to say I was in a very foul mood accordingly. I was driving recklessly and much too fast on the narrow winding roads; when suddenly I came upon a rather large dog standing in the road, it was far too late to even try to slow or stop, and I bowled it over. Needless to say, he never asked to ride with me again!
Looking back at my datebook, it's hard for me to realize we only spent one week filming the Massacre Valley sequence; I have probably the most ( and most vivid ) memories of that time and location than any other. All were day shoots, in what had finally, after seemingly endless rain, become hot and sultry weather. When the location had first been selected, the set crew had gone in and seeded thousands of wildflowers. By now there was a very lush meadow for us to march and fight through; surrounded on both sides by low hills and woods which served to hold in the heat, as in a bowl. I was assigned a small company of about fifteen bedraggled-looking soldiers with which I brought up the rear of the column. I was ably assisted by another relative newcomer among the ever-shifting cadre of reenactors, Tom Tucker, a local who served as my sergeant. Only a few stragglers limped along behind us, the first to be picked off when the attack came. Of course, most of the action took place at or near the head of the column, concentrating on the principals; so we got scarcely any "screen time". This suited me just FINE, because I don't really care to take needless chances on movie sets, regardless the production. That's what the usually-arrogant stuntmen are for!
Mohicans WaitingThat also meant I had somewhat more freedom of movement, since we were only being used in the "masters", the very large shots showing the entire column. Coupled with the fact we were now finally free from the unwanted and wholly unnecessary "help" of CAPTAIN Dale Dye, who had left the production prior to these scenes; I decided to try and enjoy these last few days. I used my camera more freely, too; after all, if I was fired now, it hardly mattered! As you can see from the galleries, I took twice as many pictures here as any other location; that's probably why I now remember it best. From the sidelines, I was able to get good shots of scenes like the melees I was only too glad to not be a part of. On our last day on set, I tried my best to get a shot of Daniel Day-Lewis, Eric Schweig, and Russell Means as they begin the rush to rescue Cora and Alice. I was still trying to be as furtive as possible about it, though; covering myself behind a standing grenadier, so as to not distract them. ( That's why he's so prominent in the resulting accompanying photos. ) As you can see, on my last, boldest try, Russell Means turned away just as I snapped the shutter!
Finally it was all over, for us at least! According to my datebook, Wednesday, August 21, 1991, was our last day of filming; though the production was to continue into November with the filming of the Canoes, Under-the-Falls, Village, Promontory and other scenes which used local extras and Indians; but not the large armies of reenactors needed for the scenes of fort and massacre. That night we had our own "wrap party" at a pub or club called Magnolias in Asheville. I remember Maurice Roeves enjoying himself greatly, a beer in one hand and a girl in each arm! I think he was the only cast member present, as thanks to Magua, it was also a wrap for him as well. The next day, I rested up at the New Carolina, where I had become something of a fixture; sleeping late, doing laundry, and closing out my bank account. From there, the following day I began the "vacation" I'd promised myself all during these weeks and months. Although I had continued my short "weekend" trips throughout the filming, my desire to visit Revolutionary sites had grown bigger than ever. I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway, revisiting Linville Falls, which was already recovering from being the scene of the "Ambush" just weeks previously. My travels took me to Monticello, Richmond, Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, both Washington's and Lee's birthplaces on the Northern Neck, Fredericksburg, Mount Vernon, Brandywine, Valley Forge, Philadelphia, Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth, and finally Morristown before I decided to turn back south towards Texas. In all, I was gone another two weeks before returning to my Mother's house in East Texas; where I rested up from the combined ordeals of the previous now nearly four months. After that, I returned to Dallas; relocated into a new apartment; resumed my job at Macy's in time for the Christmas rush; and got on with my life.
When working on a project such as this, it's impossible to know exactly how it will turn out in the end. When filming Glory, the reenactor core group had a glimpse of its possibilities when we were invited by the director, Edward Zwick, to see some of the "dailies" of battle scenes we'd filmed. Before those scenes were played, there was another of some dialogue between the principals: Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Jimihi Kennedy, and Andre Braugher. As we left the screening room, Dale Fetzer said quietly to the rest of the group, "You know, this might really be GOOD!" This was our first inkling that it might be something more than some of the absolute trash like the Civil War-era soap opera, North and South, I'd worked on previously. Needless to say, Michael Mann provided us with no such clues as to how Mohicans was turning out as we filmed it. It was not until over a YEAR later, due to the production overruns and seemingly endless editing and post-production processing, that I finally got to see what we had worked so long and hard to achieve. The very existence of this site attests to the degree he succeeded; despite all the very many flaws, intentional and otherwise, in the finished product. Though not something I would readily agree to participate in again, especially under the situation and conditions, I am only too happy to say I was a part of Last of the Mohicans.
Massacre Valley ... part 2
Magua and his warriors Into the Forest Warriors "Indian File" across the meadow going into ambush The Attack
The Battle Continues... Ditto Uncas at the Ready Our Heroes Go Into Action
" Lambs ( Well, SHEEP! ) to the Slaughter " between takes Waiting Between Takes A Lull in the Fighting Amongst the Camp Followers

And we are only too happy to have this account from James Neel! Thank you, James!


Photo assistance thanks to Doug Garnett!



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