Ask the Filmmakers – Round 6

We asked you on Facebook to send us any questions you had for the filmmakers of THE CONSPIRATOR. Here are some more of the answers! Keep asking questions, as we’ll be answering more in the coming weeks.

Megan Hardgrave asked

Why did the film not explicitly state John Surratt’s whereabouts when it has been stated as fact that he left for Montreal, Canada days before April 14, and then fled to Europe?

While the film suggests that John Surratt fled to Canada, we do not explicitly state his whereabouts because his location was left unknown to our central characters. The film is essentially told through the eyes of Frederick Aiken, who did not know where John was hiding – and wanted nothing more than to find him and bring him to justice.

Ames Tolbert asked…

After watching the film, I went online and found photos of the execution. Everything in the film seemed to match the photo exactly…did you shoot at the actual fort?

We did not shoot the execution scene at the real Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington, as the penitentiary no longer exists. It is now the site of the National Defense University in Washington, DC. Instead, we replicated the scene at Fort Pulaski in Savannah, GA.

 Additionally, our production designer, Kalina Ivanov, and the rest of the crew took great pains to recreate this pivotal scene as closely as possible. They were aided by all of the photos taken by Alexander Gardner that day.

Adam Carman asked…

Where did you get the idea that the actors from the theatre were incarcerated?

Many actors and people associated with the theater were questioned and detained at the Old Capitol Prison, according to our consulting historian Dr. Thomas Turner. For example, actor John Ford was definitely held in the prison and Laura Keene was arrested in Pennsylvania and held in Cincinnati after leaving Washington.

 Hundreds of people were detained during the manhunt that occurred after the assassination and the Ford’s Theatre actors were just a few.

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Ask the Filmmakers – Round 5

We asked you on Facebook to send us any questions you had for the filmmakers of THE CONSPIRATOR. Here are some more of the answers! Keep asking questions, as we’ll be answering more in the coming weeks.

Linda Juhasz and others asked…
Do you feel you did enough research into all the characters involved, to give a good portrayal of the events that transpired in April 1865?

The characters and events featured in the film were exhaustively researched by our entire team. Screenwriter James Solomon and historical researcher Melissa Jacobson pored over hundreds of books, courtroom transcripts, and other primary documents to ensure that the film was as accurate as possible. Jacobson even created a historical “bible” that was distributed to the entire team during pre-production.

In addition, our consulting historians provided pages of notes that were integrated into the script and were on hand for any questions that may have arisen during the shoot. The American Film Company is committed to producing historically-accurate films and we intend to commit this level of research for all of our films.

Gregg Watkins Jr. asked…
What was the hardest thing to film throughout the movie?

While you can’t tell from the finished product, the kidnapping flashback scene was one of the most difficult days of shooting in Savannah. We trudged our cast and crew out to the forest in the pouring rain and were instantly covered in mud. One of our “stakebed” trucks got stuck in knee-deep mud for several hours. Add to that some very jittery horses and actors not used to riding and it made for an awfully long day.

Not all moviemaking is glamorous, trust us!

John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt, and other conspirators in the woods outside Washington

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Ask the Filmmakers – Round 4

We asked you on Facebook to send us any questions you had for the filmmakers of THE CONSPIRATOR. Here are some more of the answers! Keep asking questions, as we’ll be answering more in the coming weeks.

Justin Lamberson asked…
There were several conspirators (like Samuel Mudd) that were not executed. Why was discussion of their sentences not included in the tribunal deliberation scene?

The screenwriter (and director) wanted the story to focus Mary Surratt. Samuel Mudd is seen in a few scenes and referred to by name in one. But it would have been too lengthy to include the sentences for all the conspirators. In 1936, director John Ford made a film about Samuel Mudd, “Prisoner of Shark Island” though I cannot attest to its historical accuracy.

Chris Colfesh asked…
What was the major different between civil courts and military tribunals in 1865?

That is a very good question for one of our consulting historians, Fred Borch, who knows all these details. I recommend going to our web site to ask him:—his-role-as-chief-prosecutor-in-the-military-tribunal/#comments

Adam Guntmacher (and several others) asked…
Whatever happened to Mary Surratt’s third child, Isaac?

Most historians agree that Isaac was not around during the period of time that was covered in the film. Just after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Surratt left his family for Texas, where he enrolled in the Confederate States Army. He eventually returned to Baltimore and died there in 1907.

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Ask the Filmmakers – Round 3

We asked you on Facebook to send us any questions you had for the filmmakers of THE CONSPIRATOR. Here are some more of the answers! Keep asking questions, as we’ll be answering more in the coming weeks.

Cate A. Nelson asked…
Could the filmmakers share the thinking behind the ‘light’ imagery throughout the movie?

In the production, great pains were taken to recreate the look and feel of 1865. Robert Redford started his career as a painter and was very interested in the work of both Rembrandt and Vermeer as examples of the use of light and shadow for the movie. Add to that, the dust created by dirt streets, wood-burning fires and the ubiquitous cigar and pipe smoke, and the result is the shafts of light and shadow treatment that many people have noticed in the film.

Greyford Hunter asked…
Why didn’t the director choose to show what their teeth really would have looked like in the time of no dental care? it worked in the HBO production John Adams.

Actually, for many of the extras we made sure to show their bad teeth. (I have attached a photo). Just as today, good teeth were often a product of class and wealth. Many of the leading characters in the film had the means to have better dental care.

bad teeth in 1865

Michael Goddard asked…
Was the assassination scene filmed at Ford’s Theatre? It appeared much smaller than previous filmed reenactments of this famous scene.

Director Robert Redford, cinematographer Tom Sigel and set designer Kalina Ivanov spent a good deal of time at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, but they concluded that it would be better to re-create Ford’s Theatre on a sound stage (in order to move the camera more easily) than to shoot inside the theater itself.

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Ask the Filmmakers – Round 2

We asked you on Facebook to send us any questions you had for the filmmakers of THE CONSPIRATOR. Here are some more of the answers! Keep asking questions, as we’ll be answering more in the coming weeks.

Mike Lanalotti asked…
What was it like to screen the film at Ford’s Theatre?

A little stirring and a little spooky. We had all screened the film numerous times, but seeing it right there (at the scene of the crime) and seeing the presidential box onscreen just twenty feet away the real thing was eerie. The thought that crossed my mind? I wish Lincoln were here so he could see this.

Melanie Horne asked…
When Reverdy Johnson comes out of a small room, we hear a toilet flush. Did they really have flush toilets in Washington, D.C. in 1865?

You’re not the first to ask us about this. Many people believe there were no flush toilets at the time, which is untrue. The question is: were there flush toilets in Senator Reverdy Johnson’s office in 1865? This was discussed on set and our Props Department came back with the answer that some of the newer federal buildings did have flush toilets (though the White House did not). So we went with the flush toilet.

Gregg Watkins, Jr., Laurie Verge, and others asked…
Why didn’t Kevin Kline who played Edward Stanton have a long white beard like the real Stanton had?

Yes, the real Stanton had a long white beard, a symbol of his elevated station in society. And Kevin Kline did try out the long beard. The problem was that it was too distracting. In this day and age a long white beard connotes Santa Claus – not the image we wanted. We felt it would be hard for the audience to “see through” the beard to the real character of Secretary of War Stanton as portrayed by Kevin Kline.

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Ask the Filmmakers – Round 1

We asked you on Facebook to send us any questions you had for the filmmakers of THE CONSPIRATOR. Here are some of the answers! Keep asking questions, as we’ll be answering more in the coming weeks.

Don Weller asked…
In the film why didn’t Mary Surratt cry out, “please don’t let me fall” right before the hanging and why didn’t they include Lewis Powell’s last words, “Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn’t deserve to die with the rest of us?”

The screenwriter knew about Mary Surratt’s line, “Please don’t let me fall”; however, he felt that it was not material to playing that scene in our film. In fact, he felt it would be distracting to the audience when he wanted to keep them focused on the action at hand. We strive to be historically accurate but we cannot literally include each line accounted for in history.

As for the Lewis Powell line, there is disagreement over whether he said this. Kate Clifford Larson, author of The Assassin’s Accomplice maintains Powell did not say this. What’s more, if he did say this, was he acting with characteristic Confederate “gallantry” (sexism) or did he actually know? We felt it was more honest and fair to the story to leave this out.

Susie Sharpe Hohenstein asked…
What was it like filming in my hometown Savannah Georgia?

Savannah is a terrific place to film. Robert Redford already knew Georgia and Savannah well since he had filmed The Legend Of Bagger Vance there. Our consulting historians all agreed that Savannah is the modern day American city that most closely resembles post-Civil War Washington City. On top of that, Georgia has a very attractive tax credit for films.

Most important, there were so many great locations (interior and exterior) throughout the city and outside Savannah proper (e.g. we shot numerous scenes at Fort Pulaski).

Plus, the people and weather are so perfectly warm. Thank you, Savannah.

Patricia Bergey Briggs asked…
Were we supposed to be able to deduce what ‘secret’ Holt confided to Aiken? Was it that Aiken should use Anna to implicate her brother without letting Mrs. Surratt know beforehand?

We are not supposed to know what exactly is said but we do know that Holt (and Stanton) want one thing: the conspirator who got away – John Surratt. The government improves Mary Surratt’s conditions with the idea that Frederick Aiken will get the location of her son from her. Aiken does his best but Mary will either not acquiesce or she does not know.

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“Did the fact that John Wilkes Booth had been an actor play any part in your decision to direct The Conspirator?”

Rick S, thanks for your question. The fact that John Wilkes Booth was an actor didn’t influence my decision to direct The Conspirator (there were plenty of other elements in this story that drew me to this project) but it certainly influenced the way I viewed the Booth character and directed actor Toby Kebbell.  Booth was known for having a dramatic flair — a showman’s sense and appreciation of timing – that provides good texture to shape a character with.

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What was it like for you making an independent film?

Making The Conspirator was a combination of two things for me: Going back to the roots of when I first started making films, rather than just acting in them, and having to work within very tough limitations.  The film’s schedule was almost impossible. There were people saying, “you can’t do it, it’s just not going to work.”  But that is, in itself, a challenge. It sort of makes you want to do it even more. The drive and the energy to make The Conspirator happen just felt good.  It became a labor of love in a sense.  I’ve made films over the years that were big budget and others that were very, very low budget.  And when you put them all together, the ones you have to fight for become the most enjoyable.

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Why are you drawn to historical and political stories?

I think it’s important to be true to your artistic soul and I find these types of stories personally very interesting.  They are filled with great character drama. The challenge and excitement for me is to entertain and be thought-provoking at the same time.

With films like “The Candidate” or “All the President’s Men” or “Three Days of the Condor,” those all had political foundations, but they ask the same types of questions. The tricky part is creating entertainment and giving the audience something to think about without being didactic.

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What was it like working with Kevin Kline and Evan Rachel Wood?

I’ve liked Kevin for a long time. I just think he’s a consummate actor.  To see an actor like Kevin get so into it… He starts from the outside and works in.  He was very concerned about his hair and his glasses and all those details. That’s where it starts. And then he works from there to get inside, to get down to the emotional core of a character. That’s a joy, to work with, and get to see, that kind of commitment.

Evan is really interesting, really talented. I liked her work in Across the Universe and she came in and took to her role immediately.  You would give her one small thing and instantly she’s there, she’s got it.  She was just a joy to direct.

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