Living history on film
A pond at Horton Grove Nature Preserve was the scene of a skirmish Wednesday between Confederate and Union soldiers. Two Union prisoners fled their quarters, and jumped into the pond to complete their escape. The Confederates raised their musket rifles, then fired into the pond, broadcasting smoke and sending the smell of gunpowder through the air.
The Confederates were historical re-enactors, and the Union troops were actors Sean Stone, as Joseph Hoover, and Randy Wayne, playing Tom Ryan, in a scene being shot for the Civil War film “Union Bound.” Shooting began last week and continues through June 20 at Historic Stagville plantation and at Horton Grove.
Uptone Pictures, a Raleigh production company, is producing the film, to be released in 2015 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the end of the war. “Union Bound” is based on the diary of Joseph Hoover, a Union soldier who fought with the 121st Infantry of New York, was imprisoned in Andersonville in Georgia, and later escaped with the help of slaves from a prison in Florence, South Carolina, before making his way back to his unit. (See sidebar for more on Hoover and the diary.)
When producer Michael Davis of Uptone first saw a transcription of the diary, he knew it was a story that would translate to film. “I saw this as an adventure piece … a very interesting story that had to be told,” Davis said. Jim Young, a slave, befriended Hoover in his escape. Rather than have battle scenes be the focus, “Union Bound” is more about the relationship between Joseph and Jim, and how that relationship is changing Joseph, Davis said. The Hoover diary offers “a written testament” that the Underground Railroad not only helped to free slaves, but also helped Union soldiers, Davis said.
Directory Harvey Lowry (his film credits include work on “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) also was fascinated by the realism of the story. “It’s a true story. These people actually went through all of his,” Lowry said. “It’s amazing that someone can make that kind of journey being hunted the entire time.”
The film “feels more like an adventure than a Civil War movie,” said Stone. He compares it to “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The film has “prison camps, an escaped fugitive story, the aid that they encounter from slaves along the way,” he said. “The Jim character becomes a hero in his own right,” Stone said. Stone (son of film director Oliver Stone) has directed “Greystone Park” and acted in numerous films, including child roles in his father’s films “Wall Street” and “JFK.”
Tank Jones, who plays Jim, was fascinated by the story’s connection to the Underground Railroad, and that Jim would risk his life for a Union soldier. “He’s the most emotionally complex character I’ve ever read for,” Jones said. “He goes through a lot. It’s emotionally draining.” The film portrays the humanity and compassion of those who were in slavery, he said. “Even though Jim had the mind of a slave, he knew the difference between right and wrong…. Even though he had been told Yankees were devils, still, reason prevailed,” Jones said.
Wayne, who plays Tom, the character who escapes with Joseph, said he has always wanted to act in a historical film (previous films include “Frat Party” and “To Save a Life”). One challenge is “trying to find the right accent, and the right cadences of the character,” he said. Because recordings are not available, it’s difficult to know how an accent from the time sounded. At first, Wayne decided against an accent, but soon devised one. “I call it my New England mashup,” he said. He and other cast members are in period costume, and while there is not much makeup, there is “a lot of dirt,” Wayne said. “We’re constantly getting dirty and then cleaning up.”
Authenticity in costuming and props is important to the film, Davis said, and Stagville and Horton Grove are ideal spots for filming. The slave quarters and plantation house at Stagville are authentic, and Horton Grove has woods, grasslands, ponds and other types of topography, all available without having to travel, he said.
Shooting in wild terrain requires a little more time – you don’t want to harm the terrain – but is worth it, said Duane Journey, the assistant director who sets up the shots. Filming will continue later inside the plantation at Stagville. “That’s the kind of beautiful location that you can’t repeat, even with a lot of money,” Journey said.