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THE CONSPIRATOR

Producing History
Even with little time for preparation, the team was committed to making the picture as historically accurate as possible. The starting place was James Solomon's well-researched script. Solomon gave the production an advantage, having come to screenwriting from a career as a journalist. The Conspirator is his first feature film script. "I tend to do extensive research and reporting,” he says. It might have even been overkill, he speculates, noting that he began work on the script when he was Aiken's exact age and saw the movie being shot when he was just a bit older than Mary. Solomon's extraordinary research on this project began with the actual trial transcripts and all the books he could find on the subject. Because there were few authentic writings of either Mary or Aiken, he also read several diaries of the era to internalize the voices and tones people used then to communicate.

Solomon attention to the factual details was bolstered by historians, hired by The American Film Company, who double checked the facts and helped set the visual scene surrounding the action. The depth of their research stunned Solomon. "It is so beyond my wildest imagination. You write two or three lines in a script and it takes an army of extraordinarily talented and committed folks to realize it on film.” He marvels, "New details become available as we learn more and more, but from the size of Mary's cell to the exact clothing and fabric that she was wearing, that kind of research has been done.” Falk adds, "Every department on this picture has gone to great lengths to make sure that what you see in the frame is as close to what it would have been in 1865 Washington.”

Everything on camerahad to be modified to look like 1865, notes Samuels, who acknowledged what a big challenge it was in such a short amount of time. Fortunately, there was a significant amount of documentary evidence from the era to draw on.

Photography was invented just before the civil war and was used extensively to document both the war and those that fought in it. "We used a lot of those photographs in order to recreate accurately what people looked like and how they behaved and dressed. As well as how the buildings and interiors looked,” reports Samuels. That, along with the historical documents surrounding the story, provided a good starting point.

Everyone from production designer, Kalina Ivanov, to costume designer, Louise Frogley, and Newton Thomas Sigel, the director of photography, worked together with Redford to devise the look of the film from the historical photographic reference. In the early creative meetings, they agreed the film should show a realistic version of Washington rather than a romantic one. Ivanov elaborates, "I think the biggest danger in period film is to make it look like a museum piece. One thing that Redford and I discussed at the very beginning is how we wanted to make the film very gritty and look very real.” Redford explains, "When thinking about depicting Washington, circa 1865, I was struck by the difficulty of depicting it realistically. I wanted to show both how rural and undeveloped it was back then while, at the same time, showing how little times have changed.

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