The Filming of "Kent State"

American Cinematographer, April 1981 | Go to article overview
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The Filming of "Kent State"

Re-creating this unique American tragedy for filming as a TV special involved horrendous logistics and a whole different approach to shooting

KENT STATE, the four-hour $4.5 million movie recently telecast on NBC, which dramatizes the campus disaster that shocked the nation 10 years ago, was filmed in Gadsden, Alabama at two locations, Gadsden State Junior College and Jacksonville State University. The sites were selected because of the similarity of their terrain to that on the Kent State campus, where Ohio National Guardsmen shot four students and wounded nine others in the incident that is still vivid in the national memory.

The teleplay for KENT STATE is by EMMY-winner Gerald Green, who wrote HOLOCAUST. The film was directed by James Goldstone for Inter Planetary Productions in association with Osmond Communications. Lionel Ephraim was producer and Phillip Barry, Micheline and Max Keller were executive producers.

Serving as technical consultant on the location during filming was Dr. J. Gregory Payne, one of the country's foremost authorities on the historical and litigational aspects of the Kent State tragedy.

"Dr. Payne's presence on the set," says Inter Planetary Productions' Max Keller, "insured our intention to produce an objective and historically dramatic account of the events surrounding this national tragedy. Our script, written by Gerald Green who also wrote HOLOCAUST, is drawn from James A. Michener's Kent State, Joseph Kelner and James Munve's The Kent State Cover-up, and Dr. Payne's research. We were very sensitive to the feelings of the families, the Guardsmen and others involved in the Kent State incident and Dr. Payne's continued input demonstrated our commitment."

For various technical reasons KENT STATE was filmed in 16mm and, in order to cut down post-production time, the negative was transferred to video tape for editing. In the following interview for AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER, director James Goldstone, just prior to supervising the tape editing of the film at the Osmond Communications complex in Utah, discussed the unique technical aspects and challenges attendant to the filming of KENT STATE:

QUESTION: What would you say was your most significant problem when you approached the filming of KENT STATE for television?

GOLDSTONE: The particular problem on this project was to create a form for a four-hour dramatic-documentary that would convey realistically what happened between Thursday night, April 29, and Monday noon, May 4, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio. Starting with the script and considering the photographic style, it was a matter of finding the best shooting form concept for the vehicle. I was trying to do something that I had never done before, although I was sure it must have been done by others. But I didn't know how to do it, so we had to come up with our own concept of how to do it, which turned out to be not to follow the characters - the real and few composite characters created in the script - to the action, but rather to follow the action (which was historically as accurate as we could make it) to the characters. As a result, both conceptually in the script work that I was doing with a young writer named Richard Kramer and the discussions on visual style that I was having with Director of Photography Steve Lamer, it became a matter of how pragmatically to convey the sense that an event was happening and that we were taking a peek at it through the reality by means of the documentary - the newsreel, if you will-that we were creating. Incidentally, we used no actual newsreels or stock footage or anything like that. In the course of portraying the action, we wanted the audience to have the sense that they were getting to know the human beings involved in these momentous events.

QUESTION: Translating those aims into practical terms, how did you actually go about making it happen?

GOLDSTONE: The method we finally adopted was somewhere between documentary and traditional filmmaking - which is a written, staged and rehearsed technique.

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