So many things can go wrong in a Civil War raid.
The horsemen could ride through too fast—or too slow. They could veer too far from the wooden stake in the center of the field. The sun could randomly peek through a cloud. That storm in the northwest could swing south.
Or someone could jiggle the pickup truck with the camera on it, wrecking one of at least four takes needed to turn 12 riders into 150 angry recruits of William Quantrill bent on raiding Olathe.
Walkers and bicyclists along the Mill Creek Streamway trail near 106th Street and Ridgeview Road did double takes Saturday as they approached the pasture where Olathe filmmaker Gregory Sheffer was shooting a re-enactment of the 1862 raid.
Just off the trailside, Sheffer’s crew filmed as riders clad in Civil War period clothing popped out of a little gully and headed toward them on the trail. Again and again and again.
The movie, “I’ve Filled My Bill,” is the fifth in a series of 19 about Olathe history, but it is the biggest production, Sheffer said. The production used about 50 people on the set, including actors, extras and Civil War re-enactors, and required about 15 horses, supplied by Robert Culbertson of American Frontier Productions of Leavenworth.
The Quantrill film will be about 15 minutes long and has a budget of $34,000, said Sheffer, who both directs it and portrays Quantrill. The series, “Olathe — The City Beautiful,” is being done in partnership with the Olathe Historical Society.
Sheffer’s Inversion Studio has a tight schedule to finish the films. Sheffer said he plans to do five this year, and have all of them finished by 2014. They will be used in school curriculum and possibly shown on KCPT.
The cast and crew filmed for two days near the bike trail before moving to the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita. The living history museum will stand in for 1860s Olathe.
Quantrill’s raid on Olathe is not as well known as the one on Lawrence in 1863, but it hurt the town’s prosperity for years, Sheffer said. The documentary traces the raid’s source to the assassination of a friend in Leavenworth. Quantrill and his guerillas raided Olathe to avenge the death, killing as they rode and looting the city. They took some prisoners to the prairie but let them go, Sheffer said.
The filming last weekend was done on property that has not changed much since settlers moved there, Sheffer said. The area included woods where the encampment scenes were shot, a small pond and an open stretch of long grass near the bike trail.
The many uncontrollable elements of outdoor filming made for some trickiness, as the crew pushed to stay on schedule. The composite scene, for instance, called for 12 riders to follow the same path toward the camera four or five times, mixing up their order and changing hats and vests each time. Later, the takes will be combined to make it look like 150 people were riding.
But such a shot requires a lot of control and a little luck. The camera can’t jiggle. The riders must go at the same speed each time. And the light has to be the same, too.
“Nothing would kill us any quicker than if the lighting wasn’t consistent,” said cameraman Scott Bosworth of Olathe.
Then there were the trains — nine in an hour and a half on the tracks parallel to the bike trail. That ruins some audio, but it can be fixed, said sound technician Allen Seamen of Olathe.
Olathe of the late 1800s and early 20th century has proved fertile ground for history films, Sheffer said. “A lot of remarkable events happened in that time period,” he said.
The first film in the series, “The Bricklayer,” won first place in the short film documentary category at the 2011 Kansas City Film Fest. That one was about the paving of Kansas City Road in brick in 1925. Other subjects include J.C. Nichols, the Kansas School for the Deaf, the Mahaffie family and the Olathe Naval Air Station.