Filmmaker scouts sites for Ken Burns documentary
Last modified at 12:08 a.m. on Friday, April 2, 1999
By LAURI ARNOLD
Courier-Post Staff Writer
Throughout history, people have walked the earth whose significance is celebrated generation after generation. One such person is Mark Twain, who will be the focus of a film biography scheduled to be broadcast on Public Broadcasting Service in the fall of 2001.
"There are so many elements to Twain and his life, and so many people for whom he is an important person in their life," said Dayton Duncan, who has been in Hannibal since Monday scouting for potential film shots to be included in the biography. Duncan is co-producing the biography with Ken Burns, who he also worked with on the "Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery," as well as a film series on the history of Western America. Burns will be directing for this biography.
Duncan said the biography will likely be aired on PBS in two parts for a total of four hours. Already, some of the interviews for the biography have been done, one of which is with author and Hannibal native Ron Powers.
"His has been the longest interview, I'd say," Duncan said. Powers has recently written a book on Twain's childhood in Hannibal, which will be released in May.
The film crew, consisting of Duncan, a camera person, an assistant and possibly Burns, will be in Hannibal for filming beginning approximately July 5, and will be in town for about one week, weather permitting.
"God is our lighting director," Duncan said.
The crew will not only have to consider the weather, but they will also have to continually consider what may and may not have been present in Mark Twain's life and perspective.
"One of the hardest things for us, as it was with Lewis & Clark (biography), is we have to do a lot of filming along the Mississippi River," Duncan said, noting that items such as power lines must be kept out of sight.
For this reason, Duncan has spent much of his four days in Hannibal driving many miles up and down the river, both on the Illinois and Missouri sides, looking for shots void of the 20th Century. He said he mostly scouts at dawn and dusk, which is when filming is best.
"We like that type of light," he said.
In addition to scouting river sites, he has visited with Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum Director Henry Sweets who was able to go over several aspects of the museum, including rare photographs.
Mark Twain Riverboat Captain Steve Terry took Duncan on the Mississippi on a small boat on Wednesday, which Duncan said allowed him to see parts of the river he would otherwise not know of.
Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Faye Bleigh took Duncan to visit Twain's birthplace in Florida on Thursday, as well as the grave site of his parents and other family.
"There have been a lot of people that have been incredibly helpful and friendly," Duncan said.
Duncan said he anticipates some of the shots in the area that will be filmed are Mark Twain's boyhood home and other such significant buildings such as the law office; photos from the museum; his birthplace in Florida, Mo.; and the grave sites of his parents and other family.
"We'll be spending a lot of time as well on the Mississippi," he said.
Duncan and Geoffrey Ward are co-writing the script for the biography. He said though there is a rough draft for the script, most of it will be developed along the way.
"We think it makes a better film if part of the process is discovering the story," he said.
Along with filming in the Hannibal area, Duncan said other sites where filming will take place are in Berkeley, Calif., Elmira, N.Y. and Hartford, Conn. Much of the filming will actually be of photographs, which Duncan noted will help to tell Twain's story of not only his life in the United States, but also his travels abroad.
"He saw more of the world than probably anyone else of his age," Duncan said.
Duncan said though the biography will not be able to tell every aspect of Twain's life, the goal is to give viewers a factual understanding of his life and times, an appreciation of his "genius and his work," and an emotional connection to him as a person.
"If we have done all that, then we'll have done our job," he said, adding that the biography will hopefully encourage people to want to find out even more about Twain.
The Twain biography is the fifth to be done by Ken Burns in recent years. Others have been biographies on Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
"Twain is such a remarkable character," Duncan said.
Duncan was born and raised in Indianola, Iowa and now lives in Walpole, New Hampshire. Following his college education, Duncan worked for a small daily newspaper, where he worked as a reporter and eventually as assistant editor.
"In some ways, I still consider myself a reporter," Duncan said.
Duncan has also worked as chief of staff for then governor of New Hampshire, Hugh Gallen; as deputy press secretary for Walter Mondale and press secretary for Michael Dukakis. He has written many books, including "Out West" and "Miles From Nowhere."
Copyright 1998 Hannibal Courier-Post