I spent the day Monday working as a swamp guide, taking a group of Hollywood filmmakers on a scouting trip to check out possible shooting locations for an upcoming major motion picture that will be shot here in Mississippi next year. This was not the first time I worked on this project. Two years ago when the film was in the early planning stages, my friend Travis Easley and I guided the director and some of his associates on an overnight canoe camping trip along the Leaf River. They came back shortly after that wanting to see some more typical Southern swamp scenery, so Ernest Herndon and I took them to the Pascagoula River. Both trips went exceptionally well, and writer/director Gary Ross was impressed with what he saw and assured me they would be returning to film The Free State of Jones here on location.
That was a little over two years ago, and I didn't hear another word about it until Sunday, when they called wanting to know if I could provide two canoes and take them back to the Pascagoula swamp to for a couple hours on Monday. It was a scramble to get ready on such short notice, but we managed and once again the crew was impressed with what they saw here in the Magnolia State. If things go as planned, some of the scenery in the photos below may be coming to the big screen someday in the not too distant future. I can't disclose the location here, but this will likely be one of many spots in the area that will serve as potential backdrops in this story of Newt Knight and his band of deserters who refused to fight for the South during the American Civil War.
Below: Gary Ross, the writer and director, is well known for his work on such films as Sea Biscuit and Pleasantville. He's a real adventurer who loves getting into the backwoods and has really taken a liking to the remote swamps of Mississippi.
Some of these scenes are undoubtedly little changed from the time this story took place.
Newt Knight and his small army of followers eluded the Confederate troops sent to find them by disappearing into the swamps along the Leaf River in Jones County. It would still be easy to hide out in the wetlands along south Mississippi's rivers and streams.
We saw several small 'gators in just a short stretch of paddling along a dead oxbow lake. Where there are young ones, there have to be some big adults as well. The alligator population has really been on the rise here in recent years.
I'm looking forward to more of this kind of location scouting work in the coming weeks and months as this film comes closer to reality. It will be quite an experience to see how a production crew works in such a difficult environment, and it will be awesome to go to the movies and see the woods and waters I have loved all my life on the big screen.