“One of the great things about being a director as a life choice is that it can never be mastered. Every story is its own kind of expedition, with its own set of challenges."
- Ron Howard
My name is Chris Hoffert and I have partnered up with award winning author and historian Frederic C. Wagner III in order to create the quintessential documentary of our time on the Battle of the Little Big Horn. I have had my hands in filmmaking for over thirteen years now and have obsessed over the history of this battle for the better part of my life. It is fitting that I now can merge two huge passions in my life here with Custer’s Strategy of Defeat.
My love for film started while I was deployed with the Army to Afghanistan back in 2004. I took this budding passion and over the span of fourteen years I honed my crafts, built my own $50,000 studio package of equipment, and became a double graduate, Cum Laude, from the Academy of Art University. I put all of me into every production I am a part of, and this film is very close to my heart with the team we've assembled to complete it.
As a respected historian of the battle, it is my intent to be unabashed and honest in bringing about both the Soldier’s and Native narratives of this fight out in feature form—something that hasn’t been done since the made for TV series ‘Son of the Morning Star’ released in 1991. We want this film to be the visual reference for the topic for many years to come and have assembled many authors, historians, experts, and reenactors to make that happen.
Writer and Director
Don't forget to follow us on Facebook at Custer's Strategy of Defeat!
Currently we have several private producers who have collectively raised $25,000 for principal photography, so everything we raise with Kickstarter will augment that. That's where you come in. We have three main goals we're aiming for with this campaign:
1. The basic goal $15,000 - This will give us the ability to shoot a bare-bones production. It'll still be a good film, but some of the bells and whistles will get drawn down.
2. Our target goal $25,000 - This'll give us a pretty good production and more flexibility for rental of props, costuming, and cast; and we can shoot the script pretty much as it is scripted--an awesome docudrama!
3. Our dream goal $75,000 - If we can hit this goal we'll have an awesome production and be able to do a lot more in front of the camera action plus complete all necessary post-production services. Hitting our dream goal will also open up the possibility for additional gifts and rewards for our Kickstarter backers. If we get this far, we'll collectively figure out some awesome new rewards!
AN ALIGNMENT OF THE STARS:
The Battle of the Little Big Horn still haunts the annuals of time and is one of the most visited historical sites in the world with around 400,000 visitors annually. Dozens of documentaries on this battle have been released over the last thirty years, so why do we need another one? The problem with most of those documentaries is that they primarily focus on hearsay and conjectural evidence to support outlandish claims. They are simply vying for viewership and ratings—that’s just the bottom line, and it truly undercuts legitimate research into the battle by perpetuating myths that many historians have since debunked. This film is a proactive attempt from current historians to correct many of these myths with a straightforward telling of the battle for the future students of the battle to be able to use as a reference, and it will be the adventure of a life time for many involved.
Our intent is to bring an old story into a new light using new age style and techniques of filming. We will be using BlackMagic Ursa cameras alongside drones to truly show aspects of the battle that have never been done before. We will also be using other time tested and Hollywood approved techniques to make shooting more efficient through the use of visual effects alongside of practical effects, but the focus will always be on the storytelling. What’s great about this film is our exclusive access to many parts of the actual battlefield to use for locations and backdrops. It’s not every day that you get to film on the actual location of history and that adds a level of realism to the visuals of this project that many other films have never had.
During the 2018 reenactment, Director Chris Hoffert and Director of Photography Robert DelTour filmed a few of the history skits the U.S Cavalry School uses for training purposes for students of the battle; as well as, brought Drone Operator Kelly Morris out in order for him to become familiar with the battlefield and test his drone out in the locations we'll be filming. It was a great opportunity to field test the new Ursa Cameras as well as get some preliminary footage to help refine the look and feel of the various techniques the production will use to bring the film to life.
**Note--these vignettes were hastily filmed and are not part of the final production--they are for visual storyboarding and shot planning only.
1. Benteen's Scout to the Left
Early on the 25th of June, Captain Frederick Benteen was sent to scout to the northwest. The village hadn't yet been located, and Lieutenant Colonel George Custer was anxious to prevent any possible escape of the Natives--as this was the biggest fear of the entire campaign. This scout would hope to help locate the village as well as prevent possible escape to the west as Custer and Major Marcus Reno approached from the south and east. It proved fruitless in the end, as the village was still several miles further down the river.
2. Custer's Last Note
Near a place known today as Cedar Coulee--very near the prominent Weir Point--Custer dispatched one last message to Captain Frederick Benteen to bring his battallion and the packtrain up. This note is one of the most scrutinized points of the battle. What did Custer mean when he had Lieutenant W.W. Cooke hastily scribble, "Benteen. Come On. Big Village, Be quick. Bring Packs, P.S. Bring packs. W.W. Cooke?" In all likelihood, he intended for Benteen to secure the packtrain and move all available units up to provide a blocking force between the two major intended points of attack. Unfortunately, this move occurred too late to be of any assistance to Custer and his five companies.
3. Reno's Fight in the Valley
Major Marcus Reno was given the impossible task to attack a very large village with a very small force. Given the historic tactics and procedures of Native forces in past battles, it was likely concluded that they would fight a retreating action to protect their families and scatter afterwards. Given accepted Native testimony, this very much would have occurred if not for the overwhelming attacks on Reno in the valley. These attacks eventually forced his lines to collapse into a dense timber area and become surrounded. With escalated attacks coming closer and closer, Reno decided to "charge" out of the timber to more defensible terrain. This move would free up most of the Native forces to move North and engage Custer.
Chris Hoffert has been painstakingly recreating the battlefield in digital 3D in order to help students of the battle study the topography of the area--a key component to Custer's defeat. Every marker and topographic feature was carefully mapped and scaled to create this very large map that can be used to help illustrate this story.
1. A top down drop in on Lieutenant Colonel George Custer's grave marker on Last Stand Hill.
2. This takes the audience from about where the visitor's center is located and over most of the major fighting areas on Battle Ridge.
3. The going theory is that this company charged off Calhoun Hill to clear Native fighters out of Calhoun Coulee and off Greasy Grass Ridge. Unknown to them, the coulees had been filling up with unseen forces and they got caught in a crossfire. A subsequent Native charge led by Lame White Man pushed them back up Finley Finkle Ridge to Battle Ridge.
4. Here we take a digital trip from the river valley bottom, up Deep Ravine/Ford C, and over Big Basin to Last Stand Hill.
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS:
Here's how we're posturing the production for success.
1. We have several private producers who collectively are allowing us to go into production with at least $25,000. We are always open to attaching additional producers, so if that's an idea you'd be interested then send us a message and we can work out the details.
2. Our Kickstarter campaign is designed to help raise the remaining minimum funds needed for filming.
3. We already have distribution lined up for a limited release off the get go. This will be done primarily through the battlefield museum. Our main digital targets after that will be Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video for exposure, and we will target several of the notable film festivals in order to try and for a wider release and distribution deal.
4. Almost all of the necessary cast, equipment, props, and costuming items are already in place and ready to go. A lot of this is coming from the hard charging folks of the Custer's Last Ride & Little Bighorn Adventure.
5. We are addressing a topic with huge international appeal and will be working to get our film out in the U.K., Europe, and select Asian countries primarily.
6. Most of the current notable authors and historians of the battle have given us kudos to drive on with this film, and a huge portion of the historic community is very excited to get this done and released to help usher in future students of the battle. We want this film to stand the test of time and this audience is dedicated enough to make it happen.
7. Almost the entire filmmaking team are historians and researchers of the battle. This'll give us a quality control aspect that no film or documentary has ever had. We want a comprehensive story that deals in facts and logic, not just to try and turn a dollar. We care, and so does the audience!
THE FILM-MAKING TEAM:
And of course, a very special shout out and thank you to the cadre and students of the U.S. Cavalry School, 'Custer's Last Ride & Little Bighorn Adventure.' Without their support, it would be very difficult to pull this film off.
HOW ARE YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS BEING SPENT?
The money raised through this campaign is entirely for the principal photography budget. This includes payroll, food for the cast and crew, location permits, insurance, lodging, gas stipends, service and support for animals, etc. We stretch every dollar to get the best bang for the buck and never waste funds on endless means—a trademark that we’ve lived by for many years now.
• For those of you visiting our set, we anticipate shooting 15-23 June near the town of Garryowen, Montana. This is prone to change and we will keep you updated so you can plan ahead if you wish to visit us.
• If you have an open invitation to attend the set and are selected to cameo, you must be a US citizen or have a US work visa, and not be a member of SAG/AFTRA. **The producers who are invited to work alongside the director will be subject to the director’s authority for the duration they attend and will at no time, by personal action, cause a production to be delayed or halted for any reason and will follow all applicable safety precautions set forth within the production insurance.
• You must be over 18 or accompanied by a parent or legal guardian to visit the set. Extras must also be over 18 or accompanied by a legal guardian.
• Some rewards may require additional paperwork. If you are appearing in the film, you will have to sign a release.
• This fundraising campaign is all subject to applicable Kickstarter rules/regulations, movie guild rules and applicable law. If any of this conflicts, we will work with you in good faith to give you a substitute reward.
• Aviation Pictures and In My Tent Productions retain all creative copyrights unless otherwise specified in a legal contract.
Making films is a crazy business, with a lot of unknowns. We have a solid script that I'm really proud of. We are assembling the best team possible, we’ll get insurance, and make back-up plans; but it's absolutely impossible to promise everything will come together completely as planned. At the end of the day, we will get a film in the can that we all will be proud of. It's an exciting journey and this is your chance to hitch a ride destined for creative adventure. I thank all of you who contribute in advance and encourage you to become an active member of our team.
If you've gotten this far, congratulations! Let's be honest with each other. If you're here, you probably have a love for the history so here are some great groups and references for you to check out to become more immersed in the history of this battle!
1. Facebook groups - There are some really great dedicated groups that many of us are members of so I highly encourage you to check out Little Big Horn Associates, Inc and Little Big Horn Discussion Group. Many of the current authors and historians of the battle frequent these groups and the wealth of knowledge available with all the other various experts that are also members is just astronomical.
2. Books - The two best books to date that we recommend to everyone is Frederic Wagner's 'The Strategy of Defeat at the Little Bighorn' and Michael Donahue's 'Where the Rivers Ran Red.' These two books are probably the most comprehensive analysis of available sources and data to date. Fred's book can still be found on Amazon but is becoming ever more rare, and Michael's book is available for purchase through his website. Send him an email at Michael's Website for the particulars.
3. Living History Groups - Having attended the reenactment for the last six years and working closely with Keith Herrin's Cavalry School over this same time period, I simply cannot say how much of a wonderful adventure in to history his seven day course is. I highly encourage you to check it out. You'll live, breathe, and sleep the history of this battle! You also get exclusive access to ride into many parts of the battlefield that are not open to tourists. It's truly awesome for anyone studying the history of the battle. Check it out at Custer's Last Ride & Little Bighorn Adventure.
Risks and challenges
The biggest challenge, other than raising the funds to complete principal photography, is distribution. Currently we do have distribution available through the Little Bighorn Battlefield Museum. With the cameras we will be shooting on, we are specifically targeting digital streaming services to include Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. We are also eyeballing several prestigious film festivals to include Sundance, the Los Angeles Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, and the South by Southwest Film Festival to help increase our exposure for future distribution.
Our goal is to premiere this film at the Little Bighorn Conference in June of 2020 and then go right into DVD distribution and the film festival circuit. This is prone to change to the left or right depending on post-production completion.
I will take on the responsibility of pushing out the physical reward items at the earliest convenience they become available. Some items are available immediately where some will need to be manufactured as each production progresses. Each contributor who selects a reward tier will receive a survey at the completion of the campaign for mailing addresses which can be updated at any time prior to shipment. **The personal information you submit to us will not be shared outside of the campaign nor will you receive any emails from this production outside of the Kickstarter website.
Weather in Montana can always be unpredictable, especially during the transitional months. The typical weather on the battlefield is hot and dry, but as 2018 taught us; anything is possible. If we are delayed during our normal filming schedule of 15-23 June, we will work with the cast and crew to schedule the additional days on the backside of those dates.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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