News Column

Battle of New Market brings Hollywood to Lexington [Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA)]

June 8, 2013


The statue has mourned for more than a century.

"Virginia Mourning Her Dead" symbolizes the losses the Virginia Military Institute suffered in the Battle of New Market. Soon, it won't be the only prominent reminder of the cadets' sacrifice.

Hollywood swept into Lexington this week with one purpose, to film the story of a Civil War battle in the Shenandoah Valley. The movie, tentatively titled "Field of Lost Shoes" is budgeted at about $5 million and crews spent the past week filming at VMI. Director Sean McNamara said the movie will tell a story not necessarily about war, but instead the young people involved.

"This movie shows a generation of Americans who were fighting with their lives to protect what they thought was important," McNamara said.

McNamara said his relationship with his three sons led him to be interested in the family dynamics of the soldiers who fought at New Market. After producing and directing Disney television shows such as "Even Stevens" and "That's So Raven," McNamara described his career as filming stories that focus on families.

"What intrigues me is the families having their sons go off to war," McNamara said. "Doesn't matter what side you're on, you're still going out to fight for what you believe in."

VMI cadets ranging in age from 15 to 25 marched to New Market starting May 11, 1864. After the battle on May 15, 10 cadets had died either during the fight or later of their wounds. Roughly 4,090 Confederate soldiers and 257 VMI cadets held off Union forces of about 6,275, causing them to retreat, according to and VMI's online archives.

For Dave Kennedy, one of the film's screenwriters, there's a factor that separates a war movie from being an authentic war movie. To tell a story about soldiers, you have to understand them.

"They may speak the same language, but it can be an entirely different culture," Kennedy said.

While outlining the script with his co-writer Tom Farrell (the president and CEO of utility company Dominion Resources), Kennedy said he drew on his experiences in the U.S. military to tell the story of the battle, which is seen from the perspective of the cadets involved in the conflict.

"What I found in looking into the archives and letters were some unbelievable characters, funny, angry, cynical and optimistic, they ran the gamut," Kennedy said. "There were also some clear signs of the stress placed on the cadets."

The cast features a mix of prominent film actors and young television stars, including Jason Isaacs, famous for his role as Lucius Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" films, as well as David Arquette. Nolan Gould, known for his role on the ABC sitcom "Modern Family," appears in the film as well.

Executive Producer Brandon Hogan said he was grateful to the residents of Lexington for tolerating the film crew as they attempt to turn the clocks back to the Civil War. Hogan admitted other recent historical films, such as Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" and HBO's "John Adams" helped open up Virginia to the likes of Hollywood.

"There's not one person on the production who doesn't have some association with VMI," Hogan said. "It's a labor of love and these people are very specific about how this story is told."

Unlike other recent Civil War era films, "Field of Lost Shoes" is told completely from the perspective of the Confederacy. While films such as "Lincoln" and "Gods and Generals" featured prominent Confederate leaders in large roles, the movies focused on the perspective of Union leaders. Those involved in the production see it another way, saying they are excited to film a story that's never been told on film.

"There was a lot of big interest in the story and a story that's never been told," Hogan said. "It's a rarity in Hollywood."

From helping the crew with sets to not charging them for using certain locations, Hogan said the support the state offered has been instrumental in getting the film into production.

"We couldn't pull it off if we didn't have those types of sets and that kind of design," Hogan said. "It's been kind of a waterfall of great filmmakers and we're just falling in and taking up where they left off."

Hogan realizes the sensitive nature of the story and said he thinks the production will be able to introduce the story to a new generation of viewers who have never heard about the cadets' sacrifice.

To help tie the movie to the current generation, the crew came to Lexington in May to film the New Market Ceremony, which is held every year on the anniversary of the battle to honor those who fought and died. Six of the soldiers who died as a result of the battle are buried in Lexington under the statue that mourns them.

Watching the actors dressed in Confederate uniforms walking around the VMI grounds, Hogan summed up how the crew feels about the cadets' story.

"It's the pride of Virginia," he said.

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