Cass and Berrien become backdrop for Civil War film

Published 1:04 am Friday, May 30, 2003

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Cassopolis Vigilant
EDWARDSBURG -- Rolling hills and fields, orchards, a farm, and a stand of woods with a creek running though, these sites in Niles and Edwardsburg, are transformed into the backdrop for Union soldiers and Confederate spies.
Though shot farther north than the real battles ever ventured, the author and producer lives in Edwardsburg and uses land in Southwestern Michigan and Northern Indiana to bring the CIvil War era to life on the screen.
Tim Richardson, a Penn High School graduate and a 1996 graduate with a B.A. in Speech &Theatre from IUSB has won literary awards. He has written and made nearly the same number of plays, films and dramas as his age -- 30.
His latest work, Kill the Messenger, is co-written with fellow IUSB graduate Michael Kouroubetes. First the two wrote and produced a 30-minute short film, Second Sight, while they were in a class with Hollywood screenwriter Tom Joachim.
The short film gave them a chance to see what they'd be up against for the feature film on a smaller scale, such as dealing with horses, authentic costuming and props, and working with Civil War re-enactors and shooting battle sequences.
They now also had a finished product to show potential investors and others interested in working on the feature film. Second Sight was shown at IUSB in November 2001. A year ago, the full version was started with ordering costumes, casting, and scouting locations. Shooting was done during 16 long days from May through September.
Richardson Productions' low budget may mean RIchardson's mother and father, Sally and Paul Richardson offer their Edwardsburg backyard off Hess Street for shoots, become a camp cook and actually serve the actors and crew dinner, but it doesn't mean the quality of the film suffers. Nor does the story fall short.
Based on a true incident, the Battle of Buffington Island, Ohio in July 1863, the film takes us on an incredible journey. We follow a young Confederate spy Daniel Gibbons, played by Bryce Cone, an actor of stage and independent films. Disguised as a Union soldier, his mission is to deliver a secret dispatch to Ohio.
Benjamin Harris, the northern photographer who helps Daniel, is portrayed by John Coffman, who actually has film and television credits including E.R. and What Women Want.
The two are pursued by a treacherous turncoat Union lieutenant, Lt. Derrick Hatcher, played by Sean McCormick, who own McCormick's bar in South Bend, Ind. He will stop at nothing to intercept the secret message and sell the information to the highest bidder -- North or South.
A co-worker in the technology and audio support department at IUSB, Kevin McInerney did much of the historical research for the film, studying the battle and southern sympathizers in the north.
McInerney helped connect the story of two brothers, scouts, spies and John Wilkes Booth, who could actually have been in Ohio at the time as he had just finished acting in a show in Cleveland.
Another fellow worker, Jim Pickens, helped organize the crew and did sound, or what he called "sweeting the sound track.
Some needed sounds Richardson himself made, such as the horses hoofs, with heavy boots. Lighting was also a concern, as night scenes needed to look natural with the aid of lanterns, fires and the moon.
Richardson was able to use a friend's farm in Niles for some scenes and to create a Civil War camp. More of the 82-minute feature film was shot in South Bend, LaPorte and Granger, Ind. The Civil War re-enactors at an historic village in Hastings and Jackson provided the battle scenes in their authentic costumes.
Uniforms for the main characters, Richardson purchased or borrowed. Props were hunted down everywhere, including Argus Antiques in Edwardsburg, where the owner had a pair of period ice skates.
A box camera used by the photographer was actually made by a boy scout for the movie, Richardson added.
Additional leading roles are played by other talented performers: David Kiefer, who has also produced a TV show for PBS; Rachel Hughes, a novelist and make-up artist; and Shayne Golden, a local musician.
Andrew Lockhart was inspired to study theatre after watching productions directed by James Lewis Casaday, Sidney Pollack's high school acting coach. After high school he began his professional training as an actor at Los Angeles City College, along with classmates Mark Hamil and Mike Evans. Kill The Messenger marks his first film project outside of Hollywood. A professional stage actor, John Finnegan, becomes John Wilkes Booth.
Cinematographer Jeff Ackil directed the photography. He has 30 years motion picture experience in Hollywood and worked on the films Backdraft, Uncle Buck and Wayne's World. Composer is musician Dean Rouch.
Ackil and Dan Wort, associate producer/business manager, helped land a distributor, 1st American Media, with offices in L.A. and Chicago, to represent the film for DVD and video sales. The trailer has already been well received, with the cost of production guessed at million dollars, Richardson said, though he won't say how much less it actually cost to produce.
Kill the Messenger will debut in the IUSB's Wiekamp Hall, Room 1001, Friday May 30 at 7 p.m. Additional showings will be Saturday, May 31, Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, June 1, at 2 p.m. For more information on the film, please visit the film's website at