Almost everyone likes movies. But have you ever fantasized about making a movie? Now I’m not talking about a home movie of the kids swimming or starring in a play. I mean the big stuff, with lights, camera, action, Hollywood director’s chair, first-tier actors and bullhorn. Well, our newspapers are now in the filmmaking business, and it was history that made us do it.
History, particularly our local history about the Revolutionary War – the battle of Long Island, the Battle of Setauket, Nathan Hale and the Setauket Spies are as exciting to read as any stories today. In fact, they are remarkably relevant, as aspects of the Constitution are regularly part of our political discussions today. For what were the Patriots fighting, putting their lives and possessions on the line, bleeding and dying? And what are we doing with that heritage?
History makes for great storytelling, as the producers of “TURN” on AMC discovered over the last four years. Their version of history was inspired by fact but strung together by fiction. So on the anniversary of the Setauket Spy Ring last year, we filmed a dramatic narrative of the Culper Spies wholly based on fact. To our great delight, that short film, which is on our website and YouTube, Facebook and other places, won first prize from the New York Press Association for video made by a newspaper.
Encouraged by our success and entranced by the many triumphant and also heart-wrenching stories that happened right here on Long Island some 240 years ago, we are making a full-length film this year, and we begin shooting locally this weekend. This time we are going all the way, with a cast of professional producers, directors, actors and first-rate equipment. The set is a work of art in itself, a recreation of the fort in the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn Heights. We have 135 re-enactors coming from distant parts — Saratoga, New York; members of our own Long Island Third New York regiment; Murrysville, Pennsylvania; and Fairfield, Connecticut — to stage the battle that almost lost the Revolutionary War before it even truly began. They will be carrying authentic muskets, shooting gunpowder, spilling blood and gore profusely (thanks to our famous special effects person) and otherwise re-creating history. Best of all about this film, we are delving into the lives and personalities of the historic figures whose actions made victory possible. Be assured that we are characterizing them authentically, both colonists and British, fleshing out what details have come down to us from historians and corroborated by our local historical societies.
Several local organizations, institutions and residents are helping to support and underwrite this ambitious production: The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the Three Village Historical Society, The State University at Stony Brook, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA), Theatre Three and the law firm of Glynn Mercep & Purcell. Some support is not so local, perhaps including the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City and the Nathan Hale Homestead Museum in Coventry, Connecticut. Many places have indicated their interest in showing the film, including some local teachers and administrators. What a painless way to teach local history.
As we have been reaching out to the many people involved in this venture, we have come across many enriching details. For example, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, where some of the action takes place, has original planking from Founding Spy Benjamin Tallmadge’s home, the Brewster House was a tavern and home of a cousin of fellow Culper Spy, Caleb Brewster, historic Benner’s Farm where we are doing some of the filming, comes down to us over the centuries, and the 1709 Thompson House, home of a local doctor, is one the beautiful preservations of the WMHO. And by the way, the Caroline Church on the Green in Setauket has a musket ball lodged in its steeple.
History is the glue that holds a community together, and our particular history is the platform on which our nation was built. We are proud to bring these stories to you on film, as well as in print, and we invite any organizations, businesses and residents who might like to be credited with making this production a reality to contact us directly. Call me at 631-751-7744 and become a part of the history of our hometowns.