Production Update: May 2012

We here at The Vanquished have been busy group over the past few days.  Our production team is comprised of seasoned reenactors; we travelled to a major World War Two reenactment in Indiana over the weekend.  Hundreds of Russian, German, British and American reenactors congregated at a historic farmhouse site to bring history to life.  The Vanquished team was there, accompanied by the 5th Kompanie Grossdeutschland group, one of the premier German reenacting units in the Midwest.  They were quite a sight for sore eyes in their “weathered” impression, which combined period equipment, uniforms, and LOTS of mud.  They looked like they had walked straight out of an Eastern Front newsreel from 1942.

Leading actress Maggie McDonnell joined our ranks (pun intended?), showing grit and determination throughout our shooting schedule, something of which her character, Anna Firstenberg, would be very proud.  Working with German cavalry, Russian reenactors and a professional film crew, we got some outstanding footage.  With hundreds of pictures and several production interviews to go through, here’s a little taste of what we worked on over the weekend.

Thanks are in order to all the dedicated reenactors that assisted us during the two-day event.  Once again, the enthusiasm they have displayed for the series is impressive.  We look forward to working with all of you again in the near future!  Anyways, take a gander at what we captured below.  And check back soon, for the interviews will be up in no time!

Behind The Scenes

As the production team here at The Vanquished grows ever-larger, we are excited about the ideas that new contributors bring to the table.  We recently added a smashing screenwriter to our ranks (pun intended?) that has already demonstrated that she will be a pillar of support to the series as we progress.  But even as we expand, our core group must wear many hats on a daily basis.

From creating period-appropriate dialogue, to scouting locations, each of us has to be able to switch roles in an instant.  Though this juggling act can be a delicate act at times, our passion for the series itself is unwavering.  I seldom know people that will sit for 13 ½ hours trying to figure out what the proper structure of a partisan band would be in 1942.  We are discovering new things about this time period each day, which proves to be an extremely rewarding experience.  I don’t know if understanding how to scavenge food on the steppes of Russia is a useful skill in Chicago, but I’ll take it.  Maybe it will make a good first date story (fingers crossed).


But equally as rewarding is when we get to take all that hard-earned expertise and see it put onto film.  We had just such a chance over the weekend, when we filmed Anna’s climatic capture by the young German Captain, Erich.  Be sure to check out the clip in the post directly below.  In addition, we captured some fantastic footage of a partisan attack on a German motorcycle courier.Our quarters for the night?  An authentic underground bunker created by members of a local WWII reenactment group.  It may have been cramped at times, and kerosene doesn’t last forever (who knew?), but the ambiance was well worth it.  Rising at the break of dawn to capture to perfect lighting, I’d say that we got some stellar footage.  The team worked together well, as always.  And despite my incessant need to make minor tweaks to the script between takes, we accomplished a great deal.

Cell phone coverage under 10 feet of earth?  That’s another story….


Stage 32 Shout-Out

History Enthusiasts & Friends,

It’s only been a week since The Vanquished blog launched and we have already generated quite the buzz in the film networking community.  Since announcing Persephone Vandegrift as our screenwriter, we have been followed on Facebook & Twitter by a talented group of aspiring filmmakers and actors.  This definitely makes those 13 hour-straight script sessions with the partners worth the toil and sweat (who needs food?!).

Many thanks for all the support from the onset!  Such outpouring truly makes us believe in our project even more.  Anyways, enough with the rambling.  Let’s get to the point.  I’ve got Russian Army doctrine to research and shots of espresso to ingest.  Check out the Stage 32 feature below.  And keep up all the great support!

PS:  Check back soon for raw footage from one of our recent film shoots!


Contributor’s Corner: Persephone Vandegrift

Truth is, I was an audacious and wayward child. I was always outdoors, always exploring, always asking questions that would go unanswered. Perhaps you might say I should have been an archaeologist instead of a writer.  Had it not been for my fear of snakes, spiders and things with more legs than me, I would have been.

My imagination was set into motion at an early age when I was given a book called The Last of the World’s Mysteries (Reader’s Digest).  A very common book, but for me, it was a book of fairy-tales, and was directly responsible for creating my insatiable curiosity.  It broadened my awareness at that young age that there were other lands beyond the four walls of my bedroom and that there had been other people before me experiencing them.  I wanted to know what it would have been like to watch Stonehenge being built or what the people of Sumer talked about over dinner.  Yes, these places existed thousands of years ago, but for me, they were alive in that book.

That early exposure to the world’s mysteries led me to explore the world of the theatre, where anything was possible.  It wasn’t long before I found my way into writing and I haven’t looked back since.  As a writer, finding stories to tell is not a problem for me.  Either they find me or I find them. There are stories in everything.  But it has always been the lesser-known stories from history that have inspired me the most; the people left behind, cities forgotten or ignored.  They have always found a companion in me and vice versa.

My journey to The Vanquished is one that I will always treasure. I credit that insatiable curiosity for the historical outcasts with creating this opportunity of a lifetime.  I cannot say for sure that had I not picked up that book, the opportunity would not have arrived, but I feel in my heart that it put me on an intersecting path.  Many months ago, I posted my profile and my writing projects on an entertainment networking website called Stage 32.  Shortly after, while I was perusing the website one afternoon, I came across a project called Mother of War, written by Lucia Mauro and being produced by Joe Orlandino who, as it turned out, is the Associate Producer for The Vanquished. Lucia’s script is about the life of 19th century Italian war heroine Anita Garibaldi.  I immediately felt a connection with the project after writing my own historical feature script about another little known heroine, Agrippina the Elder.

I contacted Joe and told him how enthralled I was about Lucia’s script because we need more of them in the world.  I explained my passion for historical stories, and asked for his advice on my Agrippina project.  He was very giving with his advice and feedback.  We talked about my theatre background and a treatment for a play he had in mind.  It was like talking to an old friend.  Needless to say, I was over the moon when a few weeks later, he told me he had put my name forward for a historical series idea he was helping to develop.  It was a dream come true. He didn’t tell me anything about it, but he did tell me it was historically based, and as you have figured out by now, that’s all I needed to know.

When I finally got a chance to talk to the creators/producers Rich Russo and Joey Tutkowski, I was tripping over myself with joy listening to them describe their experience and passion for history and what they wanted to do with The Vanquished. Even if they hadn’t chosen me, I was more than willing to help out in any way shape or form. That’s how important I feel this project is.

Many of us are given the cliff notes of history in school. And it is frustrating so much is missed. I certainly haven’t learned everything about history but it is through researching projects like The Vanquished, Mother of War, and my script Death of a Mortal Woman, that much is learned.  My feeling is that those missed stories could have had immensely positive impacts on many lives had they been given the chance.  That is where I feel an immediate loyalty to Rich and Joey and all the others behind The Vanquished because I understand their overwhelming desire to tell those lost stories.

The story behind The Vanquished is that kind of story. We have seen more stories of the Allies during WW2, but the war on the Eastern Front is hardly mentioned.  I know for sure I didn’t hear much about it in school.  Knowing that The Vanquished would provide a rare opportunity to learn something new, my storytelling string was tweaked.  There are thousands of ‘human experience stories’ that have been told and that will continue to be told.  It is vital that we never stop being reminded of our roots, even in the age of ever increasing technology and electronic communication.  It is through our extraordinary capacity as humans to enact cause and effect, emotionally endure and physically subdue, bring about change in one form or another, that we shape our destinies.  No matter at what time or place in history these things occurred – we are all each other’s history.

Civilians were not spared from the torment of war.

The unsuppressed barbarity and destruction witnessed by all sides – German, Russian, Jewish, lets the viewer delve into the inner recesses of the human experience.

A German soldier in the aftermath of battle.

In The Vanquished, we are at the mid-point of a harrowing war. So much has been destroyed, not just physically, but mentally. We will see people, much like you and I, make arduous journeys to rediscover who they were, understand who they are now, who they can be as individuals, and how they can effect others across cultural and moral barriers. Nothing can ever truly be vanquished. Our title The Vanquished proves that. We have given a name to these people’s circumstances, which in turn, gives them purpose, and self-awareness, which again, in turn, allows them to take action and make choices when they ultimately find themselves holding the fragility of life in their hands. Their choices we may or may not agree with, but seeing them exposed in such extreme situations is often the best the way we will be able to identify with them and eventually understand them.

I really find it hard to contain my excitement over The Vanquished. The team has such clarity of vision and creative inclusion that writers dream about. It is thrilling to know that the years of dedication and hard work performed were directly responsible for building the foundation and backbone of this project; it almost feels like a secret surprise. Any director coming on board will see the goldmine before them, and realize the poignant, encompassing, engaging, and truly unique opportunity this miniseries presents.

My goal is, and always will be, to write to the heart of a story and hold it up for all to see. And with The Vanquished, it is liberating to know I won’t be digging on my own! I hope this becomes more than a mini-series. As with all historical films, series, documentaries, I also hope that it spurs new and continued interest in the era and in history in general. There are more Annas and Brunos waiting to be rediscovered.


The Vanquished

Deep behind enemy lines on the deteriorating Russian front, a young German officer on patrol encounters a suspicious female partisan in the woods.   Just before he raises his weapon to kill her, they both realize they are from the same town. In a final revelation, the young freedom fighter reveals her Jewish ancestry, knowing this certainly seals her fate. For these two, the war soon tests the limits of their conscience and morality.