Ray County native plays principle role in ‘Battle of Shiloh’ film

Robbie Maupin, on horseback as Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest

By David Knopf, News Editor

There are few surprises when Shane Seley, founder and director of Wide Awake Films, asks Ray County native Robbie Maupin to round up authentic movie extras.
“I’m always satisfied,” said Seley, who brought a 10-person film crew to Big River Ranch in Lexington Saturday to shoot a portion of “The Battle of Shiloh,” a documentary about the bloody Civil War battle.  “Those guys have been working on our sets forever. We’ve been filming with Robbie Maupin and his guys since 2004, so there’s a lot of familiarity there.”
Maupin’s Midwest Performance Riders can perform as Civil War re-enactors one day and the Jesse James gang the next. On Saturday, the majority portrayed infantry – on both the Federal and Confederate sides as needed – but others, including Maupin, also served in a cavalry unit.
For “The Battle of Shiloh,” Maupin was assigned the role of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a wily Southern cavalry officer who revolutionized the hit-and-run tactics of a mounted force.
As was the case earlier this year when Maupin played the part of Bloody Bill Anderson at a Ray County Historical Society dinner, he is faithful to appearance and character traits.
“I’ve trimmed up my goatee so it looks like Nathan Bedford Forrest’s and trimmed my beard up my jaw line and cut my hair and dyed it,” said Maupin, who organized the Battle of Lexington’s 150th re-creation last fall and will do the same in 2014 for the Battle of Albany in Ray County. “What we try to do is get guys who look as close as possible to the period as possible.”
He has portrayed Confederate Gen. Jo Shelby several times, but Saturday was a first for the Forrest role. It wascomfortable, Maupin said, because the men are comparable in size and even alike in behavior.
“The similarities between us are uncanny,” Maupin said. “For that period, he was a very big man.”
Naturally left-handed, Maupin learned in studying Forrest that the cavalryman sharpened his saber on both sides so he could wield it with both hands and be a more dangerous fighter.
Though he’s not a professional actor per se, Maupin’s attention to detail, appearance and enthusiasm have made a fan of Seley, the director.
“The look aside, Robbie as an actor brings so much to the table,” said Seley. “He’s just able to produce intense emotion during those battle scenes. That’s what Robbie brings to the table, a lot of preparation and professionalism.”
On Saturday morning, Maupin’s group and other re-enactors from Kansas City portrayed Union infantryman for a battle scene in a wooded area at the 2,100-acre ranch. To visually approximate the intensity of the battle, Seley’s group augmented the single-shot musket fire with a gasoline-powered smoke machine, paint-ball like dirt balls and a crew member who dusted the scene by dropping leaves from a ladder.
Those details helped recreate a bit of the chaos the soldiers experienced during a battle the magnitude of Shiloh, Seley said.
“If you imagine all the lead in the air, essentially 80,000 guys firing at each other,” said Seley, you get a picture of dirt flying and foliage being torn up by gunfire. “They basically describe it as a hail storm or a rain storm of almost total defoliation.”
A portion of what was shot Saturday eventually will be shown at, the Web site of the Civil War Trust. It’s an organization that raises money to buy and preserve battlefields. Once the group purchases land with Civil War significance, it turns it over to the National Parks Service, which administers it.
Seley and his crew will travel to Tennessee to film a re-enactment scheduled to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh. As many as 6,000 reenactors are expected, Seley said, and clips from the reenactment will be edited into a finished product along with shots from Big River Ranch and possibly other locations.
That film will be “shopped around to the networks,” Seley said.
When it’s not being used as a film set or re-enactment site, Big River Ranch offers trail rides, a horse arena and other recreational activities to the public. Maupin said the ranch is comprised of rolling acreage owned by two families, who share the property, and allow it to be used as a backdrop for films.
Maupin’s ability to pull together talented film extras makes him a valuable commodity in this part of the country – far from the traditional filming locations.
“I’m really trying to draw some attention to what we can do here in the Midwest,” he said. “There’s some tremendous talent here.”

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