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.

The Filmmakers

About The Filmmakers

Founded on the belief that real life is often more compelling than fiction, The American Film Company produces feature films about incredible, true stories from America's past. Central to the company's filmmaking will be prominent historians, assuring that each production remains true to the history from which it is drawn.
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11 Responses to Ask the Filmmakers – Round 1

  1. Laurie Verge says:

    In regards to Powell defending Mrs. Surratt’s innocence on the gallows, it is better that it was left out. The best evidence is that he said this to his spiritual adviser, Dr. Guillette, while still in his cell. To my knowledge, however, this claim came through the minister’s daughter years later.

    • Deepika says:

      With more black clout in Hollywood, you’d think we’d be seeing a lot of ‘good Carpetbaggers, bad Klan’ moevis. ‘Wild Wild West’ would have gained a lot from having Will Smith report to Frederick Douglass (US Marshall for DC, ex Secret Six) and having the villain be Nathan Bedford Forrest (plus some cinematic Kuklos steam velocipedes or at least steam dirigibles). And more horses. That turkey needed a LOT more horses to save it.

  2. Laurie Verge says:

    I don’t do Facebook, but may I ask this: Why did someone decide to give Kevin Kline such a neat and trim beard when Edwin Stanton is always remembered for his long and slightly unruly beard. It is one of the main complaints that I have heard on various history blogs and by our visitors at Surratt House Museum over the past two weeks. When I first saw a pre-screening in January, I almost yelled out in the theater!

    • Mudassir says:

      Based on what Lincoln assassination hiniortass have read, and continue to hear from script developers, this film will bear little resemblance to the true history of Surratt’s complicity, trial, and hanging. This is unfortuante, because the real history – that is, Mary Surratt’s very real and important role in Booth’s plans – is far more intriguing and fascinating that the poorly conceived script that dramatizes the fiction that MAry was innocent and a victim of an enraged government hell bent on hanging her. Believe me, they hanged Mary because she was guilty. We wish Redford would stick to the real story, rather than make heroes out of villains, two-bit con artists, and incompetent lawyers. Kate Larson, author, The Assassins Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln.

      • Anhaa says:

        , however, the Supreme Court has never been caleld upon to render a decision whether executive privilege can overcome a congressional demand.Presidents will attempt to increase their power at the expense of other branches of government and even the people. This despite those provisions of the Constitution that make it clear that powers not granted specifically should not be inferred. That this proclivity should increase in time of war should surprise nobody. Presidents for the most part seem to take the Constitution seriously but unquestionably war will strain their abilities to live within its bounds. War will strain the ability of all its participants to uphold values that routinely pertain in normal times. Presidents use wars and security concerns to replace the old Constitution, which limited federal powers, with a new one that does not. The argument could be made more simply without sacrificing much accuracy: The federal government expands its powers by all available means, and the written Constitution has little power to prevent this. An excellent example of the enabling of the expansion and extension of executive privilege ensued after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln when the executive branch [which still existed, of course, in the form, manner, and shape of Stanton] not the legislative or judicial, controlled the trial of the so-caleld conspirators.“The Constitution has never greatly bothered any wartime president,” wrote Francis Biddle, F.D.R.’s attorney general during World War II. Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, and in several states he ordered the trial of civilians by military tribunals. “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” [Article 1, Section 9, clause 2, U.S. Constitution]. During the Civil War, once Congress classified the conflict as a “Rebellion” it clearly had the right to suspend hapeas corpus. Although Congress explicitly authorized Lincoln to suspend the writ, it was a draconian measure that the president believed essential to preserve the Union. “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” he asked. Lincoln, of course was responding to an armed insurrection which threatened the nation’s survival. Most historians have judged his action as commensurate with the threat. There is an old legal maxim that in time of war the laws are silent: Inter arma silent leges. But the critical and crucial issue is the extent to which the nation is threatened. In the case of Lincoln, the survival of the United States hung in the balance. A president will be forgiven by his contemporaries, though not necessarily by later generations and historians, for acting outside the law when that is the case. As more than one Supreme Court justice has said, the Constitution is not a suicide pact. When national survival is not threatened, however, it is essential for a chief executive to resist an unwarranted enlargement of his powers. Though the best case for the Confederacy to succeed was still a long shot, does anyone seriously argue that suspending the writ of habeas corpus for the supposed “enemy within” in the North materially influenced the outcome of the Civil War? I seem to recall that the Supreme Court reprimanded Abraham Lincoln when he ignored a writ of habeas corpus, and he continued to do so in spite of the court’s decision: ex parte Merryman. Therefore, it’s no accident the one president who had legitimate Constitutional authority to do what he did- Lincoln- is remembered as the greatest President of them all.

  3. Kevin Christensen says:

    The film attempts to reexamine the circumstances, the “what ifs” and the history of a very bleak time in America. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the subsequent trial of the accused has been a “historical conspiracy theory” like that of the murder of John Kennedy. I doubt it will ever go away.

  4. Thomas Victor says:

    Mr. Redford,
    Having completed The Conspirator, what historical film project will you tackle next?

  5. Thomas Victor says:

    Mr. Redford,
    Having completed The Conspirator, what historical film will be your next project?

    • Dayanne says:

      FWIW, at the conclusion of the War the die-hard Nathan Bedford Forrest told his men that he was going home, and any one who watned to continue the war was fit only for a lunatic asylum. Beautiful piece Steve!The Wilkes plot just shows how slapdash and really non-existent Presidential security was in the 19th Century, alien to us today. There wasn’t really any organized spy service (the Pinkertons had to be pressed in) or security (ditto). Cronyism rather than competence ruled the day.

  6. D.M. says:

    I am so confused by part of this movie. There is a man in bed with bandages and something in his mouth. He is being stabbed repeatedly. Who is he and why is he in this condition/ situation? I cannot find the explanation for this. What am I missing?

  7. Laurie Verge says:

    The man is the Secretary of State William H. Seward. He was targeted for death also. He had recently been in a carriage accident and had broken his collarbone. The bandages and splint were immobilizing his neck and shoulder area and likely saved his life. When conspirator Lewis Powell (alias Paine) broke his revolver over the head of one of Seward’s sons, he then turned to a knife to stab the Secretary. He was trained to go after the jugular vein, but the bandages and splint blocked a killing blow.

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