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The Price of Authenticity

Many many years ago, I was a member of a UK wide battle re-enactment society - .no names, . no pack drill! It was a fun society to be in. Each area had its own regiment and over the spring and summer its purpose was to raise money for charity by staging Civil War battles. Over a few years the society was gradually taken over by the "authentic squad" who began to apply rules on whether people could wear this or that or use swords or fire a replica gun of certain types. For them it was important - they want everything as "period" as possible. For the public it made no difference – watching for 50 or 100 yards away it made no difference to them as long as the story of the battle was told. To the members it became pernickety and arduous, members had spent alot of money on their kit which would be fall idle and they felt that it was mostly unnecessary. It moved the group away from its core purpose of raising money.

Making this film has in many ways raised similar questions.

The film had a very limited budget; very limited, circa £120k for the whole movie and most of it 95% was self funded. When some areas came in under budget we could spend a little more elsewhere and of course where something was more expensive we had to tighten our belts.

In some cases something was out of our league for example we asked a particular American artist to record a piece for Lowell Thomas – 3 lines of voice over dialogue and was quote $100k which would have put a huge hole in our film budget. We declined and used an actor within our budget in the end did not “change” our story.

We were of course very keen to use authentic locations so fought hard to use Clouds Hill – TEL’s cottage, we used St Martin’s in Wareham where his effigy is located, the graveyard where he is buried and St Nicholas Church in Moreton Church where his funeral held. Which brings me to another authenticity question.

St Nicholas was bombed during the war destroying the windows and much of the original inside of the church however it was restored and in the 1950’s the the artist Whistler donated a set of beautiful clear glass etched windows. As part of the filming we shot inside the church, the light was magnificent but of course we have the windows installed in the 50's for a funeral in May 1935 in pretty much every shot.

So we were faced with a dilemma; as we couldn’t remove the priceless windows, couldn’t cover them with green screen in case the windows were marked or damaged the question was should be film inside the church at all? Some who saw the preview spotted that the windows were in shot and during the Q&A would start with “you do realise that…” type questions. Yes of course we did know but if you boil it down to windows, walls, floor, pews of course most of what was filmed was repaired or replaced during restoration and most of it was not exactly the same as the church of 21st May 1935.

Of course we chose to film and accept the anomaly because it makes absolutely no difference to the story. As a note Richard Frampton Hobbs and Moreton Tea Room did allow us to use the original bier which Lawrence’s coffin was carried which was I felt upped the game and cancelled out our church question.

The accident was of course on King George V Road from Bovington to Cloud’s Hill. The road which has a simple memorial at the crash site has been straightened, tarmacked and now bears no relation to the road of 1935. It would have been impossible to film not least because of the volume of traffic and indeed tanks! In this case we chose a rough, quiet but tarmacked road near Corfe Castle which looking at the photos from the period is a good replacement.

In the end of the day we have to square a triangle. There is an old project management saying which goes time, budget, quality. Choose any two. If you choose quality it usually means the time and budget you will need grows significantly. Likewise if you chose time and budget your quality will be impacted.

The last Marvel movie cost in the order of £300m. Our film at £120k (0.0004% of the cost) could not have paid their coffee bill! We extended our timelines to allow us longer to build better sets within our budget, film at authentic locations when we needed to but all the while we were restricted by budget. If we had had more we would have spent it on improving things across the piece. But we didn’t. We had to cut the cloth to suit what we had. We had to make tough choices, make deals and negotiate to keep costs down and spent as much as we could on what you see on the screen.

Our prayers - and I'm sure of many independent film makers,

was that given these many many constraints it made absolutely no difference to the story.

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