Friday, 6 August 2004

Filming underway for local docudrama

STACEY S. MANNING The Kentucky Standard

For about three years, PLG's production manager John Coulter has had a dream about St. Joseph College. It's a dream that stirs his heart, rattles his brain, moves him to tears and keeps him awake at night.

Finally, Coulter's dream has become a reality -- filming for the docudrama "St. Joseph College" is in full-swing.

In 2001, Coulter, who worked closely with then-PLG general manager Kim Huston on programs such as "On Location," had a vision about doing something bigger than the local news channel's programming.

The staff had created a number of shows about the people and places in Nelson County, Coulter recalled. "Why don't we do something bigger, something with history involved in it?" he asked.

Observing Spalding Hall, Coulter began to ask questions about the building's history. As one of the prettiest buildings in Bardstown, according to Coulter, he set out to find out what Spalding Hall was and what it meant to the community.

As he asked questions and spent hours talking to local historian Dixie Hibbs, Coulter began to understand Spalding Hall was more than a building. It contained stories of the people that molded Bardstown and influenced the world.

Using St. Joseph College and Spalding Hall as a backdrop, Coulter envisioned a docudrama that focused on those people and their stories.

With a concept in mind, Coulter collaborated with Kentucky Standard staff writer Holly Cecil to write a script. Cecil worked closely with local historian and now Bardstown Mayor Dixie Hibbs.

"It was the most challenging writing I've ever done," Cecil said. "But, it's a story whose time has come to be told. I credit John with having the vision to recognize that and Dixie -- who had already done a majority of the research -- and other historians for sharing their knowledge with us in this project."

With the script in hand, Coulter hoped with community support, he could produce the docudrama on his own, with no budget.

"I can do this thing for free," Coulter remembered thinking. "I was very wrong."

To get started, Coulter filmed a few scenes. He shot footage on his own, but quickly realized he wouldn't be able to pull it off without some financial backing.

"It was absolutely impossible," he said. "I was frustrated and just stopped it. I put it on hold and took it off my mind for a couple of years."

Or, at least he tried to.

The project, according to Coulter, stuck in his thoughts, waking him from sleep as visions of it stirred in his head.

Thinking about what he had already shot and the people that helped him, Coulter wanted to finish the project as a way to say thank you.

"It was always in my heart, at the back of my mind," he said.

Moving forward

After a number of meetings with Standard Communications, which encompasses The Kentucky Standard, PLG TV and Kentucky Homes Magazine, Coulter finally got a budget to produce the docudrama. He then set out to find a costume designer. He knew with a small budget, it would be difficult to find someone who would come onboard.

Coulter made five calls to costumers he found on the Internet. He called and left messages, but only one -- Robin Fields, of Cincinnati -- called him back.

"I spilled my heart to her about the project and my vision," Coulter said. "She was immediately interested. By the end of it, she was really, really interested."

For Fields, Coulter's passion was enough to get her involved.

"John is very passionate about the project, about anything that he does," Fields said. "I knew that he is a much younger man compared to me -- I have kids his age -- if he's that passionate about it and there is anything I can to do to help him along, I would."

Coulter sent Fields' the script and she agreed to design the costumes. That was a huge lift for Coulter. Fields experience in costume designing includes a number of regional projects and work on the movie "Shawshank Redemption" and the television movie based from the reality show "Next Action Star."

"In this situation, I felt like this is important to Bardstown and it's important to John," she said. "John is an incredibly talented young man. His work is amazing -- it's just him and his camera -- it looks like something Steven Spielberg could do. He's a very talented young man, when we see him accept his Oscar (someday), I hope he remembers me."

More than 100 costumes were created and sent to Bardstown for the project. With those accessible, Coulter looked for an on-set costumer and found one in his second-grade teacher -- Bettina Todd. She has volunteered to suit up actors, make adjustments, re-sew and wash.

"She's been here every time for free," Coulter said. "She follows us to locations in the pouring rain and in the mud."

As costumes shaped up, Coulter's project picked up steam. It was then he met Morgan Raque, a historical re-

enactor who has been involved in films such as "Glory," "The Patriot," "Tecumseh," "The Alamo" and also a number of projects on A&E and the History Channel.

Raque admits when he first heard about the project, he wasn't interested. It was too small, too low budget and designed for too small of a market. But something moved Raque to call Coulter to hear more about his vision.

"He impressed me enough by his passion it warranted a drive (from Indiana) down here to meet with him."

Raque met with Coulter and his wife, Anna Shepherd-Coulter, for several hours and reviewed footage of what had already been shot.

"He had drive and determination. They both did," Raque said. "I could see potential here. He had no money, no resources, and no avenues. I like a challenge. I could see he had a good eye. He was kind of the underdog. I thought this was worth a shot so I came onboard."

Raque's intention was to help coordinate major battle scenes, but when he saw how much time Coulter was spending away from the camera -- coordinating other parts of the production -- he decided to lend a hand.

"He's a director, but a man with 10 hats," Raque said of Coulter.

Raque has taken the role of an assistant director and does everything from makeup to pyrotechnics.

"He's a 6 foot 4 angel," Coulter said.

Putting it together

The docudrama is based on historical fact with some creativity incorporated.

Shepherd-Coulter has served as the casting director and has recruited actors and actresses from Kentucky and surrounding states. They perform for free. She also coordinates schedules, helps with costumes, is writing the musical score, and helps to have food and drinks for cast and crew. She steps in wherever there is a need and has been a vital part of the production, according to Coulter.

There is about a week and a half of shooting left, including professionally choreographed battle scenes. When that is finished Coulter will start the editing process. Exactly how long that will take, he's not sure, but hopes to have the production finished by year's end.

Coulter would like to premiere the finished project, which will be about an hour and a half long, at the Chapel in Spalding Hall. It will also air on PLG with hopes of being expanded into larger markets.