Heads up! Gabrielle Burton's new novel about Tamzene Donner, Impatient with Desire, will be coming out on March 9. Read more about it at Gabrielle's website; you can pre-order a copy at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, etc.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Once again, the History Channel has chosen the Donner Party for its "This day in history" feature for February 19 (see last year's blog entry). Although headed "Donner Party rescued," the column points out that the First Relief, which reached Donner Lake about sundown 163 years ago today, was the first of several and the rescue wasn't complete until April.
Friday, February 12, 2010
[Note: Some of you might notice I've toned my initial response down. I decided there's enough negativity in the world without my adding quite so much.]
Well, I just received a rude response to my previous blog entry, "Director Responds." Anonymous commented,
Why don't you post the paragraph where he consulted you about the script prior to filming? I find it interesting that you go to such lengths to torpedo a small indie film that is the ONLY feature drama made about your subject of fascination. This film was not a documentary. Get over it already and move on with your life.
If you are going to present yourself and this site as a FORUM, let people speak their mind and stop editing information to suit your own ridiculous ego.
I did leave out the first paragraph of the e-mail TJ Martin sent me on February 4. This is what it said:
Kristen, [note misspelling]
My name is T.J. Martin and I wrote and directed the movie. You may remember me. Years ago, while I was researching the script I called you twice and sent you a copy of the script for notes when it was completed. The original script was called "The Forlorn" and it was a closer depiction to the actual events then the final film portrays. Our talks were spirited and you were supportive of the idea to focus on the "Forlorn Hope" as it would contain the vast story.
To address Anonymous's comments:
Why don't you post the paragraph where he consulted you about the script prior to filming?
I didn't include it because I thought it was addressed to me personally, it didn't add anything to TJ's defense of his film, and the post was long enough without it. (In case anybody's wondering, when TJ says he consulted me years ago about this project, I'm sure it's true, but I have only the faintest recollection of it.) Maybe I should have left it in; if TJ is upset about it, I'll apologize, but I don't think it's a huge deal.
I find it interesting that you go to such lengths to torpedo a small indie film that is the ONLY feature drama made about your subject of fascination.
"Go to such lengths"?! Oh, man. If only you knew. It could have been much, much worse, believe me.
This film was not a documentary.
I never thought it was. I'd have been willing to accept The Donner Party as an effective film if it had been true to the spirit of the Forlorn Hope, if it had presented the members of the Donner Party sympathetically. It did not.
Get over it already and move on with your life.
I am over it, have been for quite some time, and have "moved on"; I was working on a new post on an entirely different topic when your comment came in.
If you are going to present yourself and this site as a FORUM,
This is not a forum nor do I present it as one. This is a blog -- my blog. It's where I present my opinions, musings, and news reports about the Donner Party.
let people speak their mind and stop editing information to suit your own ridiculous ego.
I moderate all comments. Nothing appears in the Comments section unless I OK it, and I OK almost everything. I published TJ's response and your comment -- how is that not letting people speak their mind?
As for "editing information to suit [my] ridiculous ego," I'm perplexed. What did leaving out a non-essential paragraph have to do with suiting my ego?
And as for my ego being "ridiculous," all I can say is, why do you care what I think? If my opinion matters, then my ego is not unmerited and therefore not ridiculous.
It's interesting that you know the entire content of a private e-mail sent me over a week ago. Did you see my response to TJ, in which I wrote, "I'm very sorry I can't like your movie"? I meant it sincerely -- I truly wanted to like The Donner Party.
You sound hurt and angry and I'm sorry you feel that way. I'm passionate about the Donner Party and am very disappointed that the first feature film to be made about it didn't turn out better.
Monday, February 08, 2010
TJ Martin, director of The Donner Party, which I slammed in my last post, responded with thoughtful response detailing the history of the project and how it evolved into its final form. It's too bad he didn't get a chance to make the film he wanted to make. With his permission, here's his email:
I write this letter because I thought you and your readers might be interested in knowing why we made some of the changes. I also wanted to address some of your concerns with the movie by explaining our process to you.
The producers and I originally had this project set up at with an Oscar winning production company at a much higher budget. We got to the point where we had 2 well known actors in the lead roles and we were ready to shoot. One of the actors even shed 20 pounds in preparation. Suddenly, the production company pulled the money from us.
So instead of quitting, my producer raised as much funding as he could with limited time. Most people thought were were crazy to try to shoot it at this budget and within a 12 day schedule, but we had already put so much time into it and the alternative would have been to abandon the project and our dreams of making the movie.
So we forged ahead. Our new budget and schedule meant major script changes. First we would have to do it without the bigger name actors. We had to lose Lemuel and William Murphy, even though the children were a major part of the original script -- there simply wasn't time or money to have children on set. (SAG has very clear rules about how much time they can work) We had to condense the number of characters and lose the extensive costume changes that would have showed the wear of the clothes through the journey. New actors were cast, actors who did not have time to shed weight. (I considered hitting the streets and methadone clinics to get people with the right look, but it was obvious I needed people who could act and I think our cast delivered amazingly well)
We hoped the audience would take the leap with us despite not having the means to accurately depict the severity of the physical look. It was more about getting the tone right for us anyway.
As far as making Foster the leader and this was in the script from the beginning. I wanted to explore the theme of false leadership and the resentment many teamsters felt towards the captains. It was a theme that was echoed across the rest of the journey and just because I was focusing on the "Forlorn Hope" I didn't want to lose it. Other choices were creative, some done in editing to make the movie flow better. The bottom line is that we were more interested in making a movie that worked. We never set out to make a documentary, Ric Burns already made an excellent one.
So what about the title change? "The Donner Party" was strictly a business choice made by the distributor. (This also explains the error filled synopsis on the back cover) I was not consulted and I was angry about the change at first, but I understand it. If you are an average Joe picking up a movie for a weekend are you going to rent "The Forlorn" or "The Donner Party?"
I don't write this letter to make excuses for the movie. I stand behind it and the cast and crew who worked so hard to get this done under severe restrictions. I'm relieved that we got it done and I'm glad people are talking about The Donner Party.
I never saw this as be all and end all of movies about the subject. I think to properly tell the entire story you would need a "Band of Brothers" mini-series style production. I encourage you and your readers to try to write it and then convince Steven Spielberg to put 200 million behind it, because I will be the first in line to see it.
"The Donner Party" a.k.a "The Forlorn" is my first movie and it's simply my take on a small part of the Donner Party experience. I am proud of the all of the hard work people put into it and I hope it continues to spark interest and debate into a fascinating dark corner of American History.