‘To Appomattox’ creator plans filming in Shenandoah Valley

By Josette Keelor

WINCHESTER — Hollywood writer and producer Michael Frost Beckner plans to recapture Civil War history when his TV series comes to the valley this summer.

A two-season, 10-hour mini-series about the Civil War slated for 2015 not only will focus two episodes on the Shenandoah Valley but also will film most of the series locally. Filming is set to start by the end of the summer, and with the exception of a couple of locations, Beckner said, “The valley’s going to stand in for everything.”

Meeting Monday afternoon in Winchester with TV crew and members of the Virginia Film Office of Richmond, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, Beckner said “To Appomattox” won’t be any ordinary retelling of the Civil War.

“There’s going to be things in this that we’ve never seen before,” he said.

He expects Director Mikael Saloman to bring the “lush” and “epic” feel to the series that he’s known for evoking in works like “Band of Brothers.”

“He can put ‘epic’ on anything,” Beckner said.

Drawing on a lifelong love of Civil War history, Beckner said he has been working on the series idea for several years. Still, the writer of the films “Cutthroat Island” and “Spy Game” and episodes of TV series “CSI” and “The Agency” met with resistance when pitching a series about the Civil War.

His first critic was himself.

“The one thing you don’t ever do is write a Civil War story,” he said. It’s a “kiss of death,” with the exception being Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind.”

Part of his and everyone else’s hesitation is Americans’ short attention span for history. But his hope is that the series will ignite interest from a country decidedly distracted by the present. He also wants it to help prevent the valley’s Civil War history from disappearing entirely and instill an importance of historical land conservation.

Recently having witnessed construction in Frederick County when visiting the site of the Third Battle of Winchester, Beckner rebuked plans to build neighborhoods on battlefields, saying homeowners might choose differently if they understood the land’s value.

Someone who had seen and loved the TV series “Band of Brothers,” Beckner explained, “certainly wouldn’t bulldoze anything at Normandy.”

“We need to do more to get people to know better,” he said.

Such messages also are important to Keven Walker, new CEO of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation.

Americans learn their history from pop culture, he said, so the more TV shows and movies portraying the human side of war, the better it will impact visitation for historical sites.

“There’s little we can do that Hollywood can’t do better on our behalf,” he said. “Hollywood can help us make that case and give us a natural audience.”

The production could be made somewhere else, Walker said, but “that would be a travesty.”

“If it’s not in Virginia, it’s just another Hollywood film.”

For more about “To Appomattox,” visit www.toappomattox.com/.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com