No indie is easy to make. Add on that it’s a historical saga, and it’s a nightmare. Making “Men Go to Battle,” about two farmer brothers in Kentucky in the early days of the Civil War, wasn’t a breeze, even before they had to shoot in and around cabins and small towns that looked like 1861.
“Battle” director Zachary Treitz and his co-writer, the actress Kate Lyn Sheil (who makes a cameo in the film), worked hard to get their research right, especially since the film is an atypically accurate depiction of what life was like back then. There are fights over land sales and one of our heroes joins up with the Union Army later on. But most of it is about observing the day-to-day without the usual period film pomp.
This isn’t a typical historical film. Big historical events aren’t mentioned and we’re mostly watching regular folks just trying to survive.
Zachary Treitz: We wanted it to feel like we were making it in this time. We wanted it to have that feeling where nothing was special.
Kate Lyn Sheil: We wanted to shoot a period piece as though it was a movie that took place in the present — to give it that freshness, that lack of preciousness.
Treitz: I’m from Kentucky, and there’s a lot of family stories from that time, which wound up being backgrounded. Part of my family had a small general store in a rural part of Kentucky, and a town wound up growing around it. They wound up decimated, basically, over the course of the Civil War. We thought maybe we’d try to do something with it. But it was pretty vague and we wanted to fill in the details. We wound up getting lost in these archives we would go to. We’d read diaries and letters, first-hand accounts from the time. Through one particular archive we entered in this world of teenage girls and old men from the 1860s, the 1850s, that were telling unbelievable stories that seemed so pedestrian.
So much of the storyline isn’t about story but about little incidents that accumulate.
Sheil: The attention to mundane details was something we were definitely interested in. We knew that massive shifts were taking place at the time. Giant battles were happening. And yet people were writing, “Today for lunch I had chicken.”
Treitz: “John Wilkins came over today and we talked for 10 minutes.” “Cousin Jeffrey was killed yesterday. The weather today was…” Everything was completely flat. [Laughs] It was this high-stakes, low-impact writing. We thought, ‘What if we tried to capture that tone of everything being the same?’ That led to making a small story that’s taking place in this huge, wide, wild world — something that’s really untamed and unmanageable.