New documentary ‘Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West’ releases

Posted by | July 24, 2014

Kent Masterson BrownPlease welcome guest author Kent Masterson Brown. Brown is the President of Witnessing History, LLC, a Lexington, Kentucky company that produces documentary films on American history for public and cable television. He has practiced law for more than forty years; he has written six award-winning books on the Civil War; and, since 2007, has produced, written, hosted and directed six award-winning documentary films. Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West is his seventh film.

 

Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West takes you back in time to the battleground that was the Kentucky frontier; it traces the life of Daniel Boone from his birth near Reading, Pennsylvania in 1734, through his years in Kentucky and to his death in St. Charles County, Missouri in 1820. Against the backdrop of the American Revolution, Daniel Boone explores an ordinary man living in extraordinary times who was destined to settle and defend the beautiful, but often fiercely unforgiving, wilderness of Kentucky that became known as “the dark and bloody ground.”

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Born and raised in central Kentucky, I was introduced to Daniel Boone as a very young boy. That introduction grew into a keen interest as I grew older. When I first entered the film business in 2007, I resolved to produce a film on the life of Daniel Boone. I always wanted to write a biography of the famed frontiersman, but too many biographies of him were published in recent years. After producing six documentary films, mostly on aspects of the Civil War, I determined in 2011 to produce the next one on Daniel Boone.

I initially planned the production after actor/historian Scott New agreed to portray Daniel Boone and Billy Heck, the historian at Wilderness Road State Park in Ewing, Virginia, agreed to have the action scenes filmed at the park’s re-created Martin’s Station (the most authentic reconstruction of a frontier fortified station in America) and to provide much of the supporting cast. Daniel Boone was, from the beginning, planned as a two-hour production. I applied for and obtained an initial grant which financed the start of the production. It was sizeable, but it would not last long for a film the size of Daniel Boone.

As writer and producer, I took more than five months to research and compose the script, using a vast array of sources, including the papers of Daniel Boone collected by the Boone Society, Inc. An enormous number of Boone documents, portraiture and imagery were needed for use in the production. To obtain them, at least thirty manuscript repositories and art collections were singled out for imagery to illustrate the production.

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Original Boone documents from the Filson Historical Society Collections, the Draper Manuscript Collections at the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Kentucky Historical Society and many held by private collectors were planned for inclusion throughout the production. Every known portrait of Boone, along with a vast number of paintings of Boone’s exploits, Cherokee and Shawnee warriors and frontier life were tapped for inclusion. At least thirty paintings from three of the most popular contemporary artists of frontier America – David Wright, Robert Griffing and John Buxton – were singled out for use in the production.

My production company, Witnessing History, LLC, had to license all of the documents and illustrations, a mammoth task given the number of images necessary for a two-hour production. After all, images must change on the screen every four to six seconds. It was an exhausting task that occupied my time from the beginning of the production in the summer of 2011 all the way through June 2014!

The filming of action scenes of Boone’s early explorations of Kentucky, his first attempt at settlement, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, the opening of the Wilderness Road, the Revolutionary War in Kentucky and the Ohio Valley (including the sieges of Boonesborough, Ruddle’s Station and Bryan’s Station and the disastrous Battle of Blue Licks), and Boone’s later life as a surveyor, tavern keeper and even a legislator in Virginia were planned.

More than 100 actors and actresses were specially contacted to appear. The production was designed to be studded with magnificent scenes filmed in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri, as Boone would have seen them, the traces, caves, springs, rivers, creeks, hills, and even dwellings and cemeteries.

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The planned re-enactment of the Siege of Boonesborough at Fort Boonesborough State Park in Kentucky on September 24, 2011 provided the first opportunity for filming. There, a sizeable group of living history enthusiasts who portrayed Shawnee warriors was in attendance, and Park Superintendent Bill Farmer made the arrangements for them to work with me. The day was beautiful. I brought two camera crews with me for the filming session. Four hours of battle scenes, using only Shawnee warriors, were filmed in the woodlands not far from the site of the reconstructed Fort Boonesborough.

What was filmed then would be used throughout the production; footage from that filming session is found in the scenes of the death of James Boone, the battle at Twitty’s Fort, the death of Edward Boone, stealth attacks in Kentucky in 1780, the 1782 invasion of Kentucky and the Battle of Blue Licks. I tried to envision each segment of the script where Native American Warriors were discussed and then film all that might be needed. That was taxing.

Some scenes were serendipitous. As we were leaving, we walked past a re-enactor who portrayed a settler. I called for him to lie down near a woodlot as though he were dead, and then grabbed one of the more vicious-looking warriors. Then and there we filmed the scene of the scalping of Edward Boone!

Scenes of the defenses of Boonesborough, Bryan’s Station and Ruddle’s Station, along with scenes of Boone’s first attempt at settlement in 1774 and the death of his son, James (portrayed by Ryan Teague), were filmed at and around the site of Martin’s Station in the Wilderness Road State Park near Ewing, Virginia on November 12, 2011. Billy Heck made all the arrangements and enlisted all of the actors and actresses.

Some came from as far as Colorado; others came from Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky. I arrived at Middlesboro, Kentucky with two camera crews the night before. Arising at 3:30 a.m. with breakfast at 4:00 a.m., scenes of Cumberland Gap and the Cumberland Mountains were filmed at 4:45 a.m., the break of dawn.

At Wilderness Road State Park, makeup was applied to the actors and actresses at 5:30 a.m. and the filming of action scenes began there at 6:30 a.m., after we arrived. I directed the scenes, aided at every step by Billy Heck, who oversaw the preparation of each set before I and the cameramen – and actors and actresses – assembled to begin filming. Because of Billy’s attention to detail, the filming proceeded like clockwork.

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It was at the November 2011 filming session, then, that Scott New first portrayed Daniel Boone in the production. Scott was perfect; he had Daniel Boone’s build and Boone’s hair color. He also wore his hair clubbed up as Boone did. Moreover, Scott had another attribute: he portrayed Boone professionally, and had an intimate knowledge of Boone’s life and even Boone’s means of expression.

Maggie Teague was selected to portray Rebecca Boone and Danny Hinton was tapped to portray John Finley that morning. Maggie Teague was a perfect Rebecca Boone. She had jet black hair like Rebecca did, and Maggie was knowledgeable of Rebecca Boone’s story.

She looked and acted like Rebecca. Maggie Teague also served as the makeup artist. Scenes of John Finley’s meeting with Boone in front of a fireplace and the first exploration of Kentucky by Boone’s and Finley’s party in 1769 were filmed, along with scenes of life in the frontier forts and stations during the early years of Kentucky’s settlement.

Battle scenes were filmed in Martin’s Station in November 2011 too. The footage of the fighting in the blockhouses of the fort is positively gripping; it is so life-like that the viewer believes he/she is witnessing the actual events as they unfolded. The scene where actor Chase Pipes is wounded while fighting in a blockhouse is stunning. There were sixteen actors and actresses in that blockhouse, firing, loading and passing unloaded rifles to the rear and loaded ones to those at the loopholes.

Smoke filled the room. When the filming of that scene ended, everyone was out of breath, so involved in the action were they. I told the cast that they would never experience a closer feeling of what it was like defending a fortified station on the frontier than what they had just done. Everyone was breathless.

The women walking to the spring to obtain water for the garrison at Bryan’s Station was filmed, as was the striking scene of the deaths of James Boone and Henry Russell. There were so many battle scenes that I walked around the site all day with not only the script and clipboard in my hands, but a vial of stage blood, the contents of which I remember applying liberally to numerous actors. It seemed as though everybody was bleeding! After more than thirteen hours of filming, my camera crews and I packed up and left for Lexington in the darkness.

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Daniel Boone’s birthplace, his grandfather’s home and the Exeter Friends Meeting House attended by the Boones were filmed near Reading, Pennsylvania on January 12, 2013 using camera crews with whom I contracted in Reading, Pennsylvania. Filmed in mid-February 2012 were the homes of Nathan Boone (where Daniel Boone died) and Jemima Boone Callaway (where Rebecca Boone died) and Daniel and Rebecca Boone’s grave sites in St. Charles County, Missouri.

One of the delightful occurrences was the filming by the Video Department at Lindenwood University of those Boone sites in St. Charles County, Missouri. The students actually volunteered their time and services…and they did a magnificent job.

The task of raising capital continued. I obtained sponsorships from several convention and visitors’ bureaus. That helped, but much more would be needed. Back to the telephone I went. I had some luck, but the process of raising capital is always so difficult and, more often than not, discouraging.

Scenes of Scott New portraying Daniel Boone as a tavern keeper in Limestone, Kentucky and as a member of the Virginia Legislature were filmed at the restored eighteenth century tavern at Leslie Morris Park and at the Old State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky using two cameras in February 2012. The most memorable scene filmed that snowy day was Boone as a tavern keeper. I could only imagine how Boone felt being confined to a tavern and general store.

Scott New portrayed Boone as I believe he really must have been at that stage of his life, a man confined, and who yearned to wander. A week later, scenes were filmed of the Kentucky River palisades by me and one cameraman during a snowfall. Also filmed was the reconstructed Ford Harrod at Harrodsburg, the pioneer burial ground nearby and at the gravesites of Daniel and Rebecca Boone in Frankfort.

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On March 31, 2012, we filmed the palisades of the Kentucky River between Madison and Jessamine Counties while aboard a pontoon boat, a twenty-mile journey. The crew reached the site of Tapp’s Cave, one of three caves believed to have been occupied by Boone during his solitary explorations in 1770 and 1771. It was my first visit to Tapp’s Cave, even though it is very near my home. To get there we had to travel on the river beneath one of the largest nesting areas of blue herons in America; it was absolutely breathtaking.

Hundreds of blue herons flew overhead as we drifted downstream. The cave was filmed, as were all the approaches to it. Filming continued on a pontoon boat three weeks later; we journeyed then from the mouth of Hickman Creek to the mouth of the Dix River, a thirty-mile journey. It was a spectacular trip, and the footage is remarkable.

Back to fundraising I went. It is almost impossible to put into words the effort. So many times appeals were rejected. Other times the prospective sponsor wanted to “think about it.” I had no time to waste. Only rarely did I find a person who had a keen interest. I inched along, day after day, on the telephone and using email, constantly trying to raise funds. My fundraising time was shared with the time spent scouring through images and obtaining licenses to use them.

I had to continue the production. Three camera crews accompanied me when I returned to Wilderness Road State Park near Ewing, Virginia on May 12, 2012. There, a major revolutionary war re-enactment was to take place. Joining us were Scott New and Danny Hinton.

Scenes of the British and Native American attacks upon Boonesborough, Bryan’s Station and Ruddle’s Station, as well as scenes of Boone with John Finley on Braddock’s expedition and being adopted by Chief Blackfish were filmed. Boone and his hunting party at what became known as Lulbegrud Creek and in the Kentucky cane breaks were also filmed there. Over 200 re-enactors were on hand.

Artist and good friend, David Wright, joined us for the filming of the Lulbegrud Creek scenes. Much of the laughter you hear on the soundtrack with the scene is Wright’s and my own. The whole scene was humorous, largely because Danny Hinton (portraying John Finley), who informs Boone that he killed two Brobdignabs at Lulbegrud, spoke with such a funny twang that everyone burst into laughter, including Danny!

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Two camera crews accompanied me for the filming of scenes at the site of Bryan’s Station, Boone’s log cabin at Brushy Fork near Carlisle, Kentucky, the Buffalo Trace at Blue Licks, the Crossing of the Licking River at Blue Licks and Stony Creek on a very hot August 18, 2012.

Battle scenes were filmed that day at the reconstructed Tanner’s Station, and about thirty Native Americans, along with the recreated Butler’s Rangers, about twelve in number, led by Dr. Harold R. Raleigh who portrayed Captain William Caldwell, re-enacted for our cameras scenes of the Battle of Blue Licks. Dr. Raleigh is first class, and his recreated Butler’s Rangers are superb.

They came to Blue Licks that day so they could help in the filming. They did that…and more. Because the original Butler’s Rangers actually came from New York, we would have had a very difficult time finding a recreated unit of that command in Kentucky. Raleigh and his men, on their own, made it possible.

On September 30, 2012 two camera crews returned with me to Wilderness Road State Park in southwest Virginia for the third time to film some of the final scenes of Daniel Boone. Up very early, we drove from Lexington all the way to Ewing, Virginia, arriving there just after dawn. Nearly forty actors and actresses from all over the country were on hand, including Scott New, Danny Hinton, Maggie Teague, and Andy Thomas, who was selected that day to portray Daniel Boone in Missouri.

The Siege of Boonesborough, Daniel Boone’s treason trial (a masterpiece portrayal by Scott New), the treaty negotiations at Sycamore Shoals (with Billy Heck portraying Judge Richard Henderson), Boone and his hunting party at Pilot Knob, Boone being interviewed by John Filson (portrayed by Andrew Stern) and then by portrait painter Chester Harding (portrayed by Tracy Rollins), the death of Israel Boone at the Battle of Blue Licks and even scenes of Rebecca and Daniel Boone’s final years and deaths in Missouri were filmed.

When I arrived that day, I wondered how we were going to film Daniel Boone as an older man. We got the filming underway; it was performed like clockwork. I then noticed Andy Thomas. He had been working with us over the past two filming sessions at Wilderness Road State Park. I stopped him and took a long look at him. “You are an older version of Scott New!” I said. Why I hadn’t noticed him before, I don’t know, but, from there on, Andy played a terrific Daniel Boone in Missouri. After more than thirteen hours of filming, we packed up and returned to Lexington.

On December 1, 2012 two camera crews joined me to film scenes along the Kentucky River near the site of the reconstructed Fort Boonesborough of Daniel Boone’s explorations of Kentucky, cutting the Wilderness Road, the death of Edward Boone, Boone’s escape from the Shawnee in June 1778, Boone being found by Kasper Mansker singing alone in the woods, defending Twitty’s Fort, and naming Dreaming Creek, as well as Boone as a surveyor.

About ten living history actors joined Scott New and Danny Hinton, including Bill Farmer, the Park Superintendent. In fact, Bill helped put the cast together. One of the scenes filmed then was Boone receiving the message demanding the surrender of Fort Boonesborough. Scott New’s impromptu performance is as believable as it is memorable.

Finally, central Kentucky scenery that remains unchanged since Boone’s first explorations of the region – mostly springs, sinking creeks, cane breaks, and Bur Oak forests – were filmed at McConnell’s Spring near Lexington, Kentucky in October 2013 and in rural Bourbon County in January 2014. That ended the filming; it had taken from September 2011 to January 2014 to film Daniel Boone!

The editing of the production by my editor, Chris Yelton, began in October 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio and in Florence, Kentucky and proceeded until mid-June 2014. That required me journeying to Cincinnati or Florence every week, sometimes twice a week for nine months! Clark Cranfill, a music teacher and fine composer in Lexington, began composing the original score for the production in November 2013 and the sound design began at Neil Kesterson’s Dynamix Studios in Lexington in February 2014. Edited pieces of the film were periodically sent to Cranfill so he could get a “feel” for Daniel Boone and the production.

The stand-ups were filmed on February 22, 2014 using two cameramen, including Chris Yelton, and a teleprompter in the James Trabue Cabin in rural Bourbon County, Kentucky. Trabue, a survivor of the Siege of Ruddle’s Station in 1780, built the cabin around 1785. Meticulously restored, the cabin is one of the oldest structures standing in Kentucky.

It formed a stunning backdrop for the stand-ups. The cabin was restored and is owned by Bill and Dottie Spears of Paris, Kentucky. Dottie was there to open it up and she was in attendance all day long. She had lunch for the crew and, when the session ended late in the day, supper for all. What a fine lady – and great friend – is Dottie Spears!

In the midst of all the research, writing, planning, licensing of images, obtaining the necessary cast, and travel with film crews, I continued raising the capital. That was not easy. Some sponsors rallied to the cause. But there were long periods of time where no appreciable work was done on the production due to the need for capital. We were always on the brink! A film the size and complexity of Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West is very expensive to make.

Even during the editing and sound design my fundraising continued. No one proved to be more crucial to the completion of the production than Thomas P. Dupree, Sr. of Lexington. A very successful businessman and philanthropist, Tom has always had a vital interest in the arts, the scenic wonders of Kentucky, and Kentucky history. On more than one occasion he was called upon to help. Each time he responded with alacrity. Without Tom, there would be no film on the life of Daniel Boone!

Mad Anne Bailey

Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West was finally completed at the end of June 2014. It had been a three year effort. Although I had been involved in time-consuming and difficult things in the past, I had never faced a more complex endeavor than the production of Daniel Boone. There were so many moving parts: scriptwriting, fundraising, image selection and licensing, obtaining and using efficiently an entire cast of actors and actresses, cameramen, equipment, editors, sound designers and even a composer. All of the parts had to be orchestrated.

But, in the end, I was blessed. Everyone did their part; everyone contributed immensely to the end result, which is, I firmly believe, the most remarkable made-for-television production ever on the life and times of Daniel Boone. It has already been premiered before sell-out audiences in Louisville, Kentucky and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Another premier is scheduled for Lexington in September. It has received rave reviews. Watch for it on television. Advance orders for DVDs are being accepted at WWW.WITNESSINGHISTORYONLINE.COM, or by calling 859-455-9330.

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