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Meet Ron Maxwell, the Director of “Copperhead”

Created on 26 June 2012

courier140Ron Maxwell, the director of Copperhead, is a man of many different labels. Some refer to him simply as a director, while others want words such as “artist” or “historian” to hold more prominence over his work. Pick whichever one you like, but for me, he would be all of the above. We first got into contact with each other last July, because I had been covering the release of the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut on my blog for quite some time, since the film was a favorite of mine, and I, like many, had waited eight years to see it the way it was meant to be seen. Gradually, since I began coverage of the film in December of 2010, my blog transformed from one of sports and general movie reviews to a place where Civil War film buffs could come to learn the latest about the long-awaited release. I had the honor of interviewing many of the actors and crew-members involved, many of which I am friends with even today, but the one that stands out is when I had a chance to sit down with Ron at the World Premiere of his new cut in Manassas.

I first contacted him by email, where we conducted a basic Q & A. Just before he sent me his responses, though, he asked me if I was planning on coming to the premiere in a few weeks. I said that I wanted to, but because of work and a summer class I was taking, it would be difficult. He then sent me, “If you can find a way to get down here, I’ll have tickets and press passes waiting for you.” Right then and there, I knew I was going to be attending this event, because I could not let the opportunity slide away. When we met, we conducted a second interview, face to face, where I got a chance to see Ron’s passion up close and personal. That is why I am writing this, because I want people to understand that there are not many people more passionate about their craft, especially when it comes to the American Civil War, than he is. Sure, this passion is evident while watching Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, his two epics dealing with our nation’s foremost and bloodiest internal conflict, but anyone who has had a chance to speak to Ron personally about the subject, and of course, the actors who work for him, must know that he is certainly the best man for the job to helm a film such as Copperhead.

Many people owe their entrance into the Civil War obsession to Ron and Gettysburg, as this was the most in-depth and personal look at the Civil War ever made into a feature film, more so than Glory, and edging an earlier mini-series titled The Blue and the Gray. This is what got me hooked, as I first saw it on TNT when I was seven and took my first trip to the actual battlefield three years later. Gods and Generals only went on to enhance this interest, and whenever I teach a class, give a lecture, or run a Civil War history camp (something new for me) at the school I work at, in a couple of weeks, I show clips of these two films. Very rarely are my students disappointed, and I found that some even owned the two movies themselves. When we had an after-school movie event as part of a twelve-week long Civil War elective course I was teaching, twelve students stayed an hour after class (yes, you read that right) to watch the Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge scenes from Gettysburg. One mother even wrote to me on the permission slip saying, “We have this movie at home and love it! Can I come too?”

The battle scenes in his war movies are spectacular, the dialogue is stirring, sometimes Shakespearean in nature, and the scope just cannot be topped. Copperhead is going to be very different from these two previous films, as people are now finding out. There are no battle scenes or massive cannonades. There are no charges or councils of war. The running time is not going to be in the four hour neighborhood. This is going to be a more intimate approach, where the horrors of war will not be depicted in broken and bloody bodies, but in families affected, both by seeing young men being dragged off to war and the general politics behind the scenes in Small Town America. This is a subject that has never really been tackled, and with Ron in charge, we know it will be done right.

While Ron is known almost solely for his Civil War work (you cannot walk twenty feet on Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg without seeing film items and memorabilia for sale or on display, nor walk the battlefield without hearing someone mention something similar they saw in the movie), he actually got started with much different subject matter. His first work was as a Second Assistant Director in 1972 for a film titled Anthony and Cleopatra, starring Charlton Heston and John Castle (who later appeared in Gods and Generals as Old Penn). His first direction was a TV movie Sea Marks in 1976, which he followed two years with an Emmy nomination for Verna: USO Girl, an installment of Great Performances starring Sissy Spacek and William Hurt. The 1980′s were his busiest decade, directing the comedies Little Darlings and The Parent Trap II, as well as The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia and Kidco. But while all these projects were being filmed, Gettysburg was in the works, though under the title of the novel it was based on, The Killer Angels. It took fifteen years to get that book from page to screen, but diligence and perseverance paid off.

In 1993, Gettysburg premiered, and as you know, the rest is history. Ten years later, while working almost that same length of time for a follow-up movie of some kind, Gods and Generals was made, which became the prequel. The third film of a planned trilogy, The Last Full Measure, is currently on the back-burner, but maybe Copperhead will stir up some interest for that. When I spoke to Ron last July, he had this to say about that third film, and also gave some insight into how “miraculous” getting anything historical filmed truly is in today’s world:

This is where I find that I kind of laugh—I laugh at the people who should know better, who say with great authority, “This film will never be made.” Maybe they have a direct line to the Almighty, I don’t [laughs]. I know that making Gods and Generals was miraculous, making Gettysburg was miraculous, like any of the films in that genre that we could talk about, whether its Glory, or you name the title, even The Charge of the Light Brigade. These are not films that are talked about. There is nobody at a studio meeting in Hollywood who goes into their weekly meetings and says, “Does anybody have a Civil War project today?” It does not happen that way. So, for people who say that the odds are long, therefore you will never see it, is just silly. People who make that statement are just ignorant. I work on it every day. You know, maybe it won’t get made in my lifetime, maybe it will be made after my lifetime, and maybe it will never be made, we don’t know. What we do know, is that sometimes, these forces line up and these movies get made, but they do not get made with defeatist attitudes. They do not get made when you don’t suit up and go on the battlefield. They get made because you believe it can be made, you believe in the possibility of getting it made, and you will it into existence, by finding the right financing team, the right distributor, and the right actors who agree with you. That is how my two Civil War movies were made, and that is exactly how The Last Full Measure will be made. What I can tell the fans of the film and those who hope the movie will be made, is that there is not a week that passes where I do not work on it, and one of two things will happen: either I will die, or the film will be made. But, until I die, I will never cease my efforts to get the last part of the trilogy made.”


To summarize, just in reading that statement, you can see that his passion exists in grand form. He is currently putting it to good use for Copperhead, still in production at Kings Landing Historical Settlement in New Brunswick, and I can tell you that there are a lot of people already very excited about this, and rightfully so. If it premieres in 2013, it will be ten years since his last film was made, which was much too long. I know there are a lot of people from Canada frequenting this website because of the filming location, so let me say that in case you did not know, Civil War buffs here in the US are very finicky (most of us are insane as well) with who they follow and admire. They will not stay loyal to a director or producer or anyone involved with Civil War films unless they truly believed they were being done correctly. Just take a trip to Gettysburg—20 years later, Ron is still their folk hero.

Email Interview—July 6, 2011          Live Interview—July 21, 2011  

Ron’s IMDB Page          Ron’s Official Website