Local Producer Makes Videos Of The Civil War

September 25, 1990|By Henry Scarupa

Jack Foley is that other producer of Civil War epics.

Right now Ken Burns is getting all the attention as the creator of "The Civil War," the 11-hour television series airing evenings through Thursday on MPT (Channels 67 and 22). But Mr. Foley, whose video production company is based in Columbia, also has been at work on the Civil War for the past six years, shooting some 200 hours of footage of battle re-enactments in connection with the conflict's 125th anniversary.

The result is 13 commercial videotapes in two series covering the important battles from first Manassas to Appomattox, and including Antietam and Gettysburg. Individual tapes -- sold in bookstores and shops that specialize in military literature and by mail order -- run from 30 to 60 minutes for a total viewing time of almost 8 1/2 hours. Prices per tape range from $30 to $40.

"When we first started, our plan was to collect stock footage for later incorporation into dramatic programs about the Civil War, using the re-enactment footage as a way to add scale," recalls Mr. Foley. "We needed to finance the effort because it was fairly expensive, so we decided to create tapes about the re-enactments and sell them to raise money to pay the cameramen. Demand for the tapes was many times greater than we expected, and we shifted our strategy."

Because these re-enactments involved thousands of people, Mr. Foley's film crew had to get the action right the first time. There was no going back to reshoot. Typically he assigned three cameramen to cover the action from all angles.

The 60-minute Gettysburg Battle tape has been the most popular, outselling the others by a 2-1 ratio. Mr. Foley and his crew spent nine days at Gettysburg, shooting 32 hours of live action. Some 13,000 re-enactors took part in the mock battles, which re-created Pickett's charge with half the number of men in the original onslaught.

In a lighter vein, Classic Images also has produced "Seevil Wawah," a 30-minute comedy tape that combines some of the bloopers and blunders culled from re-enactments.

'War' fares well

by PBS standards

The premiere of "The Civil War" Sunday night got huge ratings by PBS standards, according to Nielsen overnight surveys. PBS said the documentary registered the largest audience ever for the debut of a limited-run PBS series.

Stu Kantor, a spokesman for PBS, explained "limited-run" yesterday by saying that the first installment of "The Civil War" did better than "Eyes on the Prize," "Jewel in the Crown," "Brideshead Revisited" or any of the other special fiction or non-fiction one-time series on PBS. But long-running shows, such as "National Geographic," have had episodes that have scored higher in the ratings, according to Kantor.

"The Civil War" scored a 9.0 rating and 13 share in Nielsen's 24 overnight markets Sunday. That equals about 8.3 million television households.

Overall, it finished behind ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox for the night. The highest rated shows Sunday were "Murder She Wrote" with a 17.8 rating and 26 share and "Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean" with a 17.3 rating and 26 share. Both were on CBS.

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