Video by Forrest Nguyen
Three men with long, unkempt hair and tattered clothes hobble straight out of 1867 and across a sloping field, herded by horseback soldiers in blue. They’re being brought back to the camp they abandoned just a short while ago. Their hands are tied and one bleeds from his head. The hapless trio is forced to the ground at the edge of camp, as a tall officer with long, blond locks enters on horseback and barks orders for no one to aid the wounded deserter. He sneers down from atop his steed, conveying as much grim disdain as his facial expressions can muster. This golden-haired rider is none other than the infamous Gen. George Armstrong Custer. He shouts more orders to his troops, then turns and exits the scene.
A moment passes, and the world of the Custer-era Kansas prairie lingers on.
Finally, Kevin Hershberger yells, “Cut!”
Then, the scene falls apart. People begin to move in and out of the set of canvas tents and campfires. Soldiers and horses pass by the camera crews and sound guys. The scene is reset. The deserters head off on their failed escape route and return to the edge of the field with the soldiers for another take.
It’s the next to last day of shooting on Virginia Department of Corrections property in Goochland County, and for the cast and crew of Legends & Lies: Into the West, a Fox News Channel series set to air its first two episodes on April 12, it’s the end of a long and storied ride.
Watching the drama unfold on the afternoon of March 12 is a crowd of about 30 — a mix of Custer’s ill-fated 7th Cavalry Regiment and the crew filming them. There’s the art director, special effects supervisor, horse wrangler, camera operators, sound crew and a litany of others. In the middle of it all is Hershberger.
Director of Legends & Lies and president-founder of LionHeart FilmWorks, Hershberger moves quickly about the set, corralling all the pieces for the next take. Then he gives the order: “Quiet on set!” A hush settles over the scene — the deserters, soldiers, crew, Custer and even the horses. Everything seems to draw a breath in limbo.
And the Kansas prairie comes to life again.
As Hershberger describes it, the Legends & Lies series comprises 10 episodes, each featuring an iconic figure of the Old West. Among them are Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, Bass Reeves, Davy Crockett, Jesse James, Custer and a handful of others. “All these characters are being explored in kind of a truth-behind-the-legend [approach],” Hershberger says. Each episode will be in the neighborhood of 45 minutes, consisting of “mostly live-action recreations, with very little archival, very little talking heads and historians.”
The scene being shot this afternoon examines one such truth about Custer: the general’s notorious temper. Set in the years of the 7th Cavalry’s exploits on the plains of Kansas enforcing the westward push of settlers amid Native American resistance, Custer’s cold-hearted reaction to his deserting soldiers shows the supposed man behind the myth; a proud leader whose over-confidence led him and his men to their end at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana. Hershberger points to a looming hill to the right of the current scene. “Yep,” he says, “[Custer] got killed in the Battle of Little Bighorn just over that ridge. It was perfect on camera.”
The production has been ongoing since October, with a total of 61 days spent shooting in four states, from the desert backdrops of Tucson, Arizona, to the plains of Texas and even a one-day shoot in Pennsylvania involving a 19th-century train. But the majority of the series has been produced in Virginia, where LionHeart FilmWorks is based.
Bill O’Reilly, host of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, is the executive producer of the series, which is produced by Montana-based Warm Springs Productions. Warm Springs, which brought Hershberger’s company into the project, is handling the film editing.
Specializing in historical reproductions, LionHeart can “literally turn on a dime and make history come to life,” Hershberger says. “We didn’t have a lot of lead-time, so we had to know our business and move quickly to get the show shooting in an incredibly short amount of time.” Despite the initial short notice and trials throughout the production ranging from a Texas ice storm, to the challenges of using live horses for each episode, to the constant wrangling of the many parts that make up a project of its scale, Hershberger says the production has been a success.
Filming has since wrapped, and the show is being finalized for its premiere on April 12 at 8 p.m. The first episode to air will tell the story of the outlaw Jesse James, followed by an episode involving Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. After that, the series will air every Sunday at 8 p.m., with the previous week’s episodes replaying Saturday night.