Baylor alum directs ‘Hatfields & McCoys’ series

Chris Large/History Channel/MCT.
Lindsay Pulsipher and Matt Barr star in “Hatfields and McCoys” on History Channel. The three-part series re-aired last Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

By Linda Wilkins

Assistant City Editor

There was bloodshed on the battlefields of the Civil War and there was bloodshed on the homefront of two families: the Hatfields and the McCoys.

The epic feud, which began in 1865 and was filled with murder, theft, and deceit, not only made for an Emmy nominated miniseries, but it’s also historically true.

Baylor alumnus Kevin Reynolds directed the Hatfields & the McCoys miniseries, which aired May 28-30. He graduated from Baylor with a law degree in 1976.

In 1978, Reynolds decided to attend the University of Southern California after practicing law in Austin for two years.

“I’ve always loved story telling and I loved the way they were told in film,” Reynolds said. “It’s what I wanted to try to do for a living.”

The William Morris Agency sent Reynolds the script for the Hatfields & the McCoys miniseries in April 2011. Reynolds said his decision to become involved in the project was the genesis of the miniseries.

The miniseries was not advertised as a documentary, and Reynolds said the series was about 75 to 80 percent accurate in terms of historical details.

“We had to embellish some, but most of the characters actually existed and the events occurred,” Reynolds said. Such events include the relations between Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy. Lisa Alther, McCoy relative and the author of Blood Feud, a book that explores the historical Hatfields and McCoys, commented on the accuracy of the miniseries.

“I thought overall they did a very good job,” Alther said. “It had some of the complexities of the characters- Kevin Costner did a very good job with William Anderson ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield.” She said the series was able to convey the Civil War animosities and the various disagreements between the two families.

Alther said some of the circumstances of the characters were not accurate, as with Perry Cline and Asa Harmon McCoy, two of the characters which appear to spark the feud in the miniseries.

Reynolds, as the director, was involved in the casting process for the miniseries.

Kevin Costner played Devil Anse Hatfield, the family head, and was a good fit for the part, Reynolds said.

According to Alther, Hatfield was a complicated man, who loved his family but was also ruthless. She said Costner portrayed this complexity in the series well.

Randall McCoy, the McCoy family head, was played by Bill Paxton. Reynolds said Paxton “did a good job of capturing his persona.” Reynolds said McCoy was an unforgiving character and he saw a fine line between right and wrong- there was no gray area.

Regarding the entire cast, Alther said, “I thought it was a really great ensemble of really talented actors.” She added, “Because they’re actors, they are a lot more attractive than the historical figures.”

The historical feud took place in Kentucky and West Virginia in Appalachia. Because filming in the United States is more expensive than elsewhere, Reynolds chose to film the series in the Transylvania region of Romania. He said the setting matched Appalachia, and the choice to film out of the country made sense financially.

Although the miniseries earned 16 Emmy nominations, one of which Reynolds was nominated for, Reynolds said, “I was generally content with the outcome, but there are some things I wish we’d done differently.”

He said the Emmy nominations showed the series “worked.”

While the series was a success, the filming process was not simple. Reynolds said the amount of time allotted for the project was the most difficult aspect of the project to deal with. There were a lot of scenes to film and they had a very compressed schedule to work with. Reynolds said the six-hour series had 70 days allotted for filming. To put the time constraint in perspective, he said an average film would normally have 50-60 days to film. Reynolds said the project was finished in 13 weeks and shooting went from Sept. 2011 to Christmas 2011.

“It was a unique experience and I’m ready to move on to whatever is next,” Reynolds said regarding the Hatfields & the McCoys miniseries. Reynolds has directed several different movies such as Fandango (1985) and The Beast (1988).

He said aspiring directors have to make sure it’s what they want to do before they “throw themselves into it.”

“The business has changed considerably since I was there [studying],” Reynolds said. “It is much, much, much different than when I started. If you go down that road, you have to be dedicated and give 150 percent.”