Any filmmaker can regurgitate facts about a historical icon’s life – the challenge, in director Chris Eyre’s view, comes in personalizing that figure and giving a three-dimensional feel to someone viewers already think they know.
Eyre faced this very situation while directing the live action drama in episodes of the upcoming five-part We Shall Remain series. Also part of a larger multi-media project, We Shall Remain is an American Experience production in association with Native American Public Telecommunications for WGBH Boston, and explores Native history within America. The second episode, which Eyre co-directed with documentarian and Steeplechase Films founder Ric Burns, has three principle characters, including the legendary Shawnee warrior Tecumseh.
Eyre used an intentionally paradoxical style for shooting the re-enacted scenes. ‘With a tight shot you have such intensity; for wide shots, they’re used for letting the emotion breathe, or to show beauty,’ says Eyre. ‘For the tight shots, I can’t do better than Troy or 300 for battle scenes. We didn’t have the budget or the scope – the extras, camera, crew – to do that kind of thing.’ Plus, it’s been done before. For the dramatic scenes in Remain that were shot tight, ‘it’s really about what you don’t see,’ says Eyre. ‘Like brushstrokes when you’re painting, certain sketches are better than the actual realized portraits, and the reason is the sketch leaves the audience filling in the blanks, and when you fill in the blanks yourself it becomes subjective and very artful in its suggestions.’
On the other side of the paradox, wide shots gave a full picture, literally and figuratively. ‘When [we shot] Tecumseh and his brother on horseback together, it’s about unity, brotherhood, a relaxed moment and the beauty of the landscape,’ says Eyre. ‘Then you know who this guy is: he’s a relaxed, calm, personal leader.’