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New movie 'Copperhead' features work of local screenwriter

Created on 26 June 2013

While Western New York has enjoyed several connections to the film industry, Friday's national release of the film "Copperhead" surely will be the first time a movie features a screenplay from a resident of the Genesee County town of Elba.

Bill Kauffman has authored several books, mostly non-fiction. He edits other authors. His reviews and essays have been widely published and he often contributes to the Wall Street Journal and The American Conservative.

Listen to WBFO's feature on the film "Copperhead."

But prior to "Copperhead," Kauffman says, "I had not written a screenplay."

"I actually gave myself a tutorial, kind of, but first I was greatly assisted by the director (Ron Maxwell) who has an unerring eye and ear for plot and dialogue."

"I read through what I thought were terrifically interesting and well-written films, screenplays. It was a range from Graham Greene's "The Third Man" to Paul Schrader's "Taxi Driver," Robert Towne's "Chinatown," and James Dickey's unfilmable script for "Deliverance," which is far too literary and verbose. These things kind of gave me a sense of the richness of the form."

Based on the novel "The Copperhead" by Utica-born author Harold Frederic, the story unfolds in 1862 and follows "two families in a little town in Central New York torn apart, devastated by the war, as much of the country was being devastated and being torn apart by the (Civil) War."

Billy Campbell portrays farmer Abner Beech, who doesn't believe in the war, a stance that earned its followers the name "Copperhead." Beech is at odds with the town's vocal majority, the loudest being Jee Hagadorn, a fiery abolitionist, with Scottish actor Angus Macfadyen offering an explosive performance.

Their story is brought to film with the expert touch of Ron Maxwell. With Copperhead, Maxwell now has directed a Civil War trilogy, including the much-lauded epics "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals."

Maxwell spoke to WBFO prior to a special screening of the film in Batavia as about 300 jammed into Genesee Community College's Stuart Steiner Theatre.

"I've been somewhat surprised at these screenings. I've been making movies for forty years, thirty in Hollywood. And I've been to a lot of screenings and a lot of pre-screenings, and I've been surprised how intensely emotional this has been for the audience. This is the tenth or eleventh pre-screening and we'll have to wait and see, but every single one the audience has given an ovation. And, I have to tell you that's unusual."

"Copperhead" opens Friday in 70 cities, including the Buffalo-area.