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HomeNews'The New World' Set Mirrors Jamestown Archaeological Finds
'The New World' Set Mirrors Jamestown Archaeological Finds

Bill Kelso, APVA director of archaeology, and Jack Fisk, production designer for
Bill Kelso, APVA director of archaeology, and Jack Fisk, production designer for "The New World," discuss the design of the James Fort set.
JAMESTOWN -- "I wish I could go back there, just for a few seconds, to see what it was really like," said David Crank, art director for "The New World," a feature movie about Jamestown starring Colin Farrell as Captain John Smith, that was filmed at Historic Jamstowne and nearby sites. Going back in time may be impossible, but Crank and other artists and designers working under the direction of Jack Fisk, production designer for the movie, are finding that the archaeological research project at the 1607 James Fort site at Historic Jamestowne may be the next best thing.

"We are fortunate to be filming so close to the original site of the first successful English colony in America," said Fisk. "The enthusiasm and cooperation of the APVA, Dr. William Kelso, Curator Bly Straube and all of their colleagues has been a welcome contribution for our recreation of the James Fort."

Fisk said the design of the James Fort set for the movie is in many ways consistent with what the APVA Preservation Virginia archaeologists have found with a few modifications to make it suitable for filming a movie. The movie fort has more gates and openings and is about a twenty-five percent smaller than the actual fort, to fit the site. The cannon mounts in the corners are also different, but otherwise it is very similar to the original fort in shape and the style of construction.

"It's amazing. It is impressively close to the real thing and certainly captures the essence of the fort's basic design. Based on everything we've seen, the movie will approach the reality of Jamestown as it was in the early 1600s. It will definitely look right," said Dr. William Kelso, APVA director of archaeology.

Some of the buildings inside the fort are also based on what archaeologists have found and were constructed using 17th century building techniques. One of the mud and stud buildings is almost an exact reconstruction of one found at the original fort site and is located in the same place within the fort. Archaeologists agreed that there are a few details that are different, but the overall impression is very authentic.

Set designers have also helped archaeologists. The fort set design was so close to a true reconstruction of the fort, based on archaeological findings, that archaeologists requested a tour for the summer field school students to help them visualize what they were uncovering back at the Historic Jamestowne site. Archaeological evidence of the original fort is somewhat vague, consisting of soil stains left by the rotted palisades, postholes, pits, cellars and hearths. "What it looked like new in 1607 is difficult for most people to imagine. 'The New World' set brings the discoveries to life in a very useful educational way," Kelso said.

Details about the fort design that were not available from historic documents or archaeology were created by designers using common sense and an understanding of available resources and the ability of the Jamestown settlers to build it. For example, Fisk made sure that the logs used for the palisade were only as big as those that could be carried and put into position by men, and he built an open-sided saw pit for the movie in a bank near the river because it would be ventilated and offered a pleasant view. Ironically, a few weeks later, archaeologists discovered what appears to be the remains of a saw pit in a similar location at the original fort site.

"It's interesting that what was a logical way for Englishmen to build things nearly 400 years ago, still makes sense today," Kelso said.

With the interpretive advice of APVA Curator Bly Straube, artists also examined the APVA Preservation Virginia's collection of artifacts (now about a million) unearthed by the archaeologists at Historic Jamestowne including ceramics, arms and armor, glassware, food remains and personal items used by the early Jamestown settlers to get ideas for props and set decorations. Some biographical information about the early settlers has also been provided.

Written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick for New Line Cinema, the film is scheduled to be released nationwide January 13, 2006. Inspired by the legend of John Smith and Pocahontas, Malick transforms the classic story into a sweeping exploration of love, loss and discovery, both an elegy of the America that was...and the America that was yet to come.

Set against a historically accurate Virginia backdrop, the dramatized tale features an accomplished cast that also includes Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, August Schellenberg, Wes Studi, David Thewlis, Yorick van Wageningen and newcomer Q'orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas. Behind the camera is an all-star production team that includes director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki ("Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Sleepy Hollow"), production designer Jack Fisk ("Mulholland Drive," "The Thin Red Line"), costume designer Jacqueline West ("Quills," "Rising Sun") and film editor Richard Chew ("Star Wars," "Shanghai Noon").

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