On the Atenveldt kingdom e-mail list, someone recently noted that His Grace appeared briefly in Command Decisions. The post to the list remarked, "I remember that you went back to England a couple three years ago for the annual recreation of the Battle of Hastings...", and asked, "So, Your Grace, can we add Television Star to your already impressive list of accomplishments?"
His Grace answered on the list, and has been kind enough to share with SCAtoday.net an expanded version of the story of his day at Hastings, which, it turns out, happened nowhere near the real Hastings:
Yep...you got it right...a "movie star!"
Before long I'll be carrying around a small yappy dog named Tinkerbelle, and getting in line to marry JayLo!
Actually the scenes you saw were not vintage footage from the Hastings 2000 event, but new scenes shot for the program "Command Decisions." If you're not familiar with it the program examines historical battles and stops at certain points to question the viewer as to what they think should be done next. Each "command" choice is then examined and the best answer explained. The episode we participated in was in regard to the "Battle of Hastings," and it aired November 20, 2004.
The footage was filmed last July, in Northern California, around the town of Alamo. (The location may look familiar if you watch the History Channel a lot as many of the battle re-enactments are shot at the same location!) The Viking/Dark Age re-enactment organization Regia Anglorum was contacted to provide authentically attired "actors" for the shoot. Several members of the SCA, who are also involved in rebated steel re-enactment, became involved, including me, Frank and Henrik.
The star of the show was my good friend Henrik Olsgaard, who played Duke William of Normandy (who conquered England as a result of the battle). Henrik (Duke Henrik of Havn in the SCA, the Society's first "official" King) made his own coat of mail and Norman helmet back in the 1960s, and was fighting in it in the SCA when I first met him. I think it was very fitting that he got to play this role.
Another great friend of mine, Frank Eager (Duke Aaron in the SCA), and I traveled to California for the shoot, after we heard about it on a "Viking/re-enactment" discussion list. There were only twelve re-enactors involved in the Hastings program. Most came from California; a few came from Oregon and Washington, and two of us flew in from Arizona.
We all got our share of "face time" (as we say "in the biz!). I am in many scenes — look for a double row of rivets on top of my helmet — and Frank and I were the guys swinging the big Huscarle axes! In some scenes I have mail covering part of my face; in other scenes I took off the mail and my red coif is visible. Frank is easy to spot as he is (as usual) the biggest guy in the scene! With only twelve of us we had to exchange gear, helmets, shield etc. to shoot new scenes so we didn't look so much like we were the same guys — some of that "Hollywood Magic!" (The real battle had about 12,000 men, so we were, as I see it, "doing the work of a thousand men each!")
Frank reminds me that both he and I actually had "talking parts" in the program. Well sort of — while playing the role of Saxon Huscarles, we both were recorded screaming as we attacked the Normans with our double-handed axes. Unfortunately, I believe that some of my "best work" ended up on the cutting room floor (though it was all video actually). I had a scene where I chopped a break-away shield in half, with the bottom half sailing across the battlefield, but for some reason it didn't make it into the program — darn.
In the scene where William's advisors are all looking at the maps, you can see my bald head as one of them, and I am the messenger/guard given orders by William (on horseback). My big scene (completed in only "one take" by the way) was the "eating the apple" scene! I think you could say that I really — as actors say — "became the apple."
Look at the credits at the end of the show (OK, get out your "pause" button). We are all given credit as "re-enactment actors." (More credit than we deserve, but for what we were paid, I'll take it.) Everyone involved had their share of scenes: Dorian, Jack, Ian, Michael, Dimitri, Douglas, Henrik, Frank, Corey, Gordon were all fighting, eating, hammering wood, marching, carrying stuff - all the things one has to do to invade a country in the 11th century.
Henrik is a superb horseman and it comes across in many scenes (I think he has been practicing his whole life for this role!). Gordon, another expert horseman, unfortunately fell of one of the horses when it galloped away unexpectedly. He was taken to the hospital and had (thankfully) only a broken wrist. This was our only real injury, beyond plenty of sore muscles and feet. We were all very happy to pass around a bottle of Ibuprophen at the end of the day!
By the end of the day we also had quite a pile of broken swords, shields, and spears. If this pile of broken weapons — from only twelve guys who were just simulating combat — is any indicator what might have happened on a real medieval battlefield, there must have been an enormous pile of broken weapons (not to mention people) when it was over.
One thing I learned from this experience is to be much more understanding and generous toward other re-enactors when you might see them on TV. First of all, we are all used to seeing big budget Hollywood movies where millions of dollars are available to re-create an effect. For most TV programs, like we are talking about here, the budget is very small. At one point the director told us, "OK, now we need to shoot the scene where you make the Viking ships!" Wow, I thought...Viking ships! Cool. Where are they? The answer is that you simulate a few actions that leave the "impression" of making a Viking ship. To do this you take two hammers and ask two guys to bang on some wood, and a length of rope and pull it over a tree branch. After some careful editing, you have your "making the Viking ships" scene.
It is also possible to have "creative differences" in such projects. The serious re-enactor may find that the director/producer already has an idea of what they want, even though the re-enactor may have a different idea about what would be more "authentic." At one point we were asked to smash a watermelon open on a big rock and grab pieces of it with our hands, and cram it into our faces like barbarians. We discussed the likelihood of the Normans having a watermelon, in southern England, in October, and that fact that these knights were not cavemen, but in the end we ate pieces of watermelon (but insisted on at least cutting them up with a knife first). Re-enactors have less control over what is shown, and how they are portrayed, than people realize. So when you're looking at such a program and think "they wouldn't have had that sort of helmet" or some other thing, realize that the re-enactor probably knows that as well.
Henrik and I got into this sort of re-enactment after traveling to England in 2000 for an event called "Hastings2000," the biggest re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings ever attempted. This re-enactment was under the auspices of English Heritage and organized by the European Dark Age society called, The Vikings. The re-enactment took place on the actual battlefield, in the town of Battle, and included about 1,200 re-enactors from around the world. Henrik was part of Duke William's cavalry, while I was a knight on foot and fought on both sides (Saxon and Norman) at different times. (A few other SCA members took part in the Hastings re-enactment as well.)
Being dressed as French "Miles" (Knight) at the Hastings re-enactment was interesting, as many people assumed I was French. They would come up to me and start speaking in French. I'd have to stop them and say, "I'm sorry but I don't speak French." They would invariably look very surprised at me and ask, "You're not even English are you?" "Nope," I'd say, "I'm from Arizona!" "Just how many Norman Knights are there in Arizona?" they would ask. "One that I know of," I would tell them.
The Command Decisions show was a great adventure, and we got to meet more folks who share our interests. I have found that all of these groups, the SCA, Regia, The Vikings etc., have much more in common than they may think, at times. We are all kindred.