Or “the making of a documentary.”
March 2013 edit
Finished and world premiere: http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/columnists/ct-talk-brotman-pow-doc-0401-20130401,0,311443,full.column
Last Friday Clare & I attended a screening of three pilot TV shows. Leaning across a department chair and my wife, a Radio-TV faculty member asks me what I’m doing Tuesday afternoon. (Clare responded for me, “Jan, I’m sitting right here.”) Then she asked if I would have a problem taking off my shirt. (Again, Clare responded.)
Kidding aside, the RT faculty member was Jan Thompson, who is working on a documentary about the American soldiers who were surrendered to Japanese forces at Bataan and Corregidor. Among those servicemen: her dad.
Jan’s dad was a pharmacist mate on the U.S.S. Canopus (AS-9, http://www.usscanopus.org/
), a submarine tender in the U.S. Navy, named for the star Canopus. The Canopus crew scuttled her just before the surrender of Bataan and escaped to Corregidor Island. Jan’s dad was among those surrendered to the Imperial Japanese on May 6, 1942, and he was a POW for three and half years. This included time on “hellships,” which is where today’s post comes in.
Jan had about a dozen undergraduate men to portray enlisted men and about seven older men to portray officers squeezed in the hold of a ship. She asked for as many days of beard or stubble as we could manage and then came the make-up, as you can see.
Initially we were all just dirtied and given ratty shirts. It was probably a couple hours between call time and the first shooting. The initial scenes took probably 1½–2 hours. (Couldn’t be sure; we were asked to remove all jewelry, including watches.)
With only one or two breaks, most of us were sitting on a concrete floor with our knees up to our chests and most of us probably had our arms crossed around our knees to help hold them up. It got pretty uncomfortable, but consider that Jan’s dad and his fellow POWs endured this for 49 days.
For the final scenes, only 4 or 5 of us were still around but I don’t think she needed as many for these shots. The last scenes were set to show that the Japanese transport vessel had been attacked. So back to make-up for cuts and blood and blood-smeared knuckles.
Back to the small set, which was only large enough for a 4x5 arrangement of the original 20 of us, all sitting with our knees up. The [real-life] survivors reported being showered in the hold of their ship with pyrite (dust-like remnants of explosives). To depict this, the lighting was colored to orange and baby powder was sprinkled from above. Since I was lying on the floor with my face turned to one side, I only had baby powder on the left side of my face and that’s today’s post.
Call time was 5 p.m. I texted Clare about 11 p.m., I think, that I was on my way home. All of this time and personnel and effort for how much air time? According to Jan, maybe two minutes of a 2-hour documentary!
Read about the shorter project Jan completed last year, http://www.tragedyofbataan.com/
. I don’t know why we have it, but when I was going through the titles on our DVR yesterday, I discovered I had it, so I was able to watch it! I knew a little about the Bataan Death March, but I learned a lot more
yesterday … and tonight!
Jan was a wonder: she was cheerful start-to-finish for the 6 hours I was there. I admired how she treated everyone, “cast” and crew alike. This is clearly a case of someone doing what they love and loving what they’re doing. Labor of love, given that it’s her late father’s story? Love, probably all the time. Labor? Probably only some of the time. I look forward to a possible Carbondale screening when she finishes!
A year ago (“Finis!”): http://365project.org/rhoing/365/2011-05-15