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The War at home

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by Mark Burger

Over 150 years since its end, the Civil War remains a topic of great fascination for many Americans. Its historical impact is unmistakable, its legacy unshakable. It truly was the birth of a nation.

For JD (John David) Mayo, his latest short Our War offers an opportunity to indulge his passion for filmmaking and American history, particularly the Civil War era. The film, currently in production throughout the region, is set in May 1861, following the attack on Fort Sumter and North Carolina’s secession from the Union.

A family from rural North Carolina is shocked when the eldest son, Jim, leaves home to fight for the North, severing all ties with them. As the war rages on for the next four years, Jim’s decision has unexpected repercussions for him and his family, which build to a boiling point in 1865 when, following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Jim returns home.

Although not specifically based on factual characters, Our War is certainly inspired by actual events, as thousands of Southerners became pariahs to their friends and family when they chose to fight for the Union, leaving emotional wounds that festered – and flared – years after the conflict had ended.

That this was not an oft-told tale appealed to Mayo, who previously made the shorts Taken Out (2012), The Protector (2014) and Getting Out (2015). He conceived the original idea, then collaborated with producer Steven Hancock (a fellow Civil War buff) on the screenplay.

“I’ve always been a fan of history — going to the old historic sites with my mom,” Mayo explains. “When I got old enough to pick up a rifle, I went to my first reenactment in 2000, called ‘Stoneman’s Raid’ in Boone. I am now a member with the Iron Grays Mess unit. They’re a great bunch of guys I’ve known since I was 16 – I’m 32 now.

“I always like reading books of the time period, I just love the uniforms of the Blue and the Gray, (and) in 1861 they had uniforms in all kinds of bright colors, especially militia uniforms. I also collect Civil War artifacts like the mini-balls and buttons. I even have a few cannon balls.”

Shooting a low-budget period piece in the heat of the summer is no easy task, as Mayo attests.

“Yes, it has been difficult – mainly with scheduling actors who had other projects going on at the same time, so we had to push (the end of production) to October, which will be cooler and the actors won’t have it so bad because their (heavy) costumes will keep them warm.”

Thus far, Mayo’s crew has filmed in Stoneville and Walnut Cove. “We’re also trying to find a cabin that would be historically correct for our time period. We couldn’t film at museums because they needed insurance to film there — which is hard when you have a limited budget of what you get in donations and what you’re spending of your own money.”

Nevertheless, Mayo came to the project prepared.

“Knowing a lot about the Civil War, not from re-enacting but from reading books, helps a lot because you have to find experienced historians to help you do the extra work,” Mayo observes. “You can do it yourself, knowing what is authentic and what’s not.

“The film should be about 20-25 minutes long,” he reveals. “We have already started a rough cut of the battle scenes, and after our premiere we will start submitting to film festivals locally and especially in Virginia (where Mayo hails from) – starting next year after the holidays.”

As for taking the next step, into a feature-length project, Mayo doesn’t discount the possibility at all. “Making a feature would require a lot of time off from regular work and coming up with the idea to do it,” he says. “But the short films are a little easier right now. I’ll know more later after this film, in the future, whether I want to go in that (feature) direction or not.”

Another concern is Mayo’s health. He was born with a rare heart condition that has periodically recurred. It was while recuperating from a procedure late last year that he and Hancock hammered out the final script. Despite the arduousness of making Our War, Mayo is clearly enthusiastic despite the difficulties.

Ryan David Thompson, who also stars in Joey Martin’s upcoming short The Haunting of Four Points (which was covered in a recent YES! Weekly cover story), on which Mayo also worked, stars in the pivotal role of Jim, with Mike Burke, Brigham McNeely, Brandy Mason, Melissa Eastwood and Michael Williams in support.

“To me, doing film is something that I love,” Mayo says. “I like the people in this field. I learned that you get a lot of help (and) I love networking. It’s what we do here in North Carolina as indie filmmakers – back each other, helping, promoting, and showing our films to each other.

We want North Carolina to be like it was before — but we’re doing our best to keep it alive here, as we want our work to get noticed.”

For more information about Our War, go to http://www.facebook.com/OurWarMovie/. !

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