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Hometown Hollywood
By Kathleen Ostrander

In need of the cavalry, mounted militia, Mexican lancers, dragoons, West Point cadets, British officers, Afghan freedom fighters, Hussars, Cuirassiers, you need only contact Karl Luthin in Springfield.

How about a blacksmith shop, encampment, complete historically correct horse tack, again - contact Karl Luthin. If you've seen the movies "Geronimo," "Last Confederate Widow," "Heaven and Hell," "Gettysburg," "Glory," the multi-award winning "John Adams," "Second Hand Lions," "The Last Samurai," "Rambo III" - then you've seen some of Luthin's handiwork.

KEL Equine Productions supplies horses, historically correct equipment, technical advice and just about anything else needed to produce a Western or any movie involving a battle going back to when Napoleon decided a bit of conquering was needed.

Luthin's horse expertise starts with his "real job," a veterinarian specializing in horses. Add in an interest in history with an amazing retention of what most would consider trivial details. How exactly did a rolled-up great coat look on the back of a horse? Or, what is the correct saddle to have on your horse if you are a Hessian officer?

But what most people consider historical trivia is what makes Luthin invaluable on a movie set.

"Directors want people to watch a production and get involved in the story. They don't want them sitting there thinking that the saddle is wrong, the people are dressed wrong or none of the props are correct," Luthin said. "And believe me, people notice that."

When Hollywood calls, Luthin packs up one or all of his eight semis loaded with historically correct equipment from the most mundane - pots to hang over a campfire - to the most important - a uniform for Gen. George Washington.

In movie terms, he's known as a wrangler. Anyone who supplies and controls animals for a film, from rattlesnakes to oxen, is the wrangler. During a production, he can also wear a couple other hats, like on-site veterinarian and technical advisor.

On a recent weekend he was in Chicago with some horses and equipment while The Weather Channel taped a piece on how weather changed history. In three separate sequences Luthin changed what he calls the horse furniture, saddles, blankets and other equipment, to reflect the changes that went on during a war that dragged on several years.

What you see on one side of the camera doesn't necessarily reflect what's on the other side, he said. "For example, we are shooting a scene where cannons are fired and the camera angle changes to get some of the area as the smoke is clearing. On one side of the camera we see the scene going fine. Through the lens of the camera, as the angle widens - you see a motorcycle parked on the edge of the scene that you didn't see in the original angle."

Or, an actor in a Civil War period costume moves around and his Rolex peeks out from the edge of his sleeve.

Luthin has done historically correct re-enactments of Civil War battles for the National Park Services in several states. With the help of special effects during his recent weekend in Chicago when it was 80 degrees, he set up Gen. Washington at a snowy battle in Trenton. Much of the historical footage taken for documentaries or mini-series featuring Lincoln has historically correct horses and all the accompanying accouterment from KEL Equine productions.

Luthin and the people he brings are considered part of the crew. The production company feeds them and houses them somewhere.

"I have guys that may take a couple of weeks of vacation and they come to an area where we are filming something. After about a week or so, the assistant director will come and ask - OK, who are we getting as new faces? And we rotate the guys out whose vacations are up with new guys that come in. That way we don't have the same faces over and over again involved in different battle scenes."

Horses that he supplies are called "non-descript." They don't have flashy unique markings so moviegoers would be able to say - gee, wasn't that horse with the crooked blaze just going by with an Indian on it and now a cavalry officer is riding it?

Luthin's horses are important to the movie or miniseries. To us watching, they are just horses standing or running while someone is shooting over their heads. To a producer, the extra cost involved in getting horses supplied by a pro is worth it.

"There was a movie starring Lou Diamond Phillips and his horse got spooked, and he got thrown and landed in a wood pile. He broke his arm, filming stopped until he was able to ride a horse again and that meant thousands and thousands of dollars were lost," he said.

So Luthin supplies what is called the "principle horse," that's a horse that a star can ride without fear of it suddenly freaking out and rushing off somewhere. One of his famous principle horses is Glory. She's been ridden by several movie presidents and she's as solid as a rock when it comes to gunfire, cannon fire, a saber fight on her back or a massacre.

Luthin's horses stand solid when cannons are fired over them, when pistols are shot over their heads and when whooping Indians or screaming mujahadeen warriors attack. One of the oddest requests he had were horses that would tolerate camels. Most of his will, but one that wouldn't at a film shoot was sent home.

He can supply stunt horses, too. Those horses that trip and fall in the movies - they don't get hurt and you will likely see them tripping and falling or crossing a fjord later in the movie. No animals are hurt in any of the filming. "If an actor shoots a rattlesnake in a woodpile - it's a fake rattlesnake," he said.

He's been in plenty of movies. He's that back of a head on a horse running away or someone on a horse in a crowd, and he doesn't mind that. He's got lots of fun stories to tell - like the make-up people have to come in and dust the horses so they look like they've just been ridden for two days.

Sometimes the uniforms need to look dusty, and through a camera lens, they still don't look right. So they need to be dusted with several different colors to get both the Confederate and Union uniforms looking like they were in the same battles.

It's not all fun and games though. Luthin is on call for the Department of Defense, and when a soldier is killed in battle and buried with a state funeral, he supplies the caisson - the horse-drawn wagon where the casket is placed - as well as the horses that won't bolt when a three-volley salute is fired.

Luthin keeps building his stash of historically correct items. He goes to estate sales and picks up items that he can use in any sort of movie, commercial or TV series.

The answering machine at the Luthin home isn't used that often because when the phone rings - it could be Hollywood calling!

 


 

Where's Luthin?

Some of the productions that have used Luthin's equipment or expertise:

* North and South Part 1

* Houston - The Legend of Texas

* Alamo The Price of Freedom

* Rambo III

* Ironclads

* Legacy

* Son of the Morning Star

* Last of the Mohicans

* Far and Away

* Adventures of Huck Finn

* Queens The Memphis in May

* Gettysburg

* For Love and Glory

* Geronimo

* Jesse James

* Dawn of a Nation

* Manassas: End of Innocence

* Young Joseph Smith

* Magnificent Seven

 


 

What KEL Equine
Productions can supply

* On-site equine veterinarian
* Technical advisor for mounted civilians, officers, cavalry and artillery
* Mounted units from French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Alamo 1836, Mexican War 1846, Civil War (Union and Confederate) Early Indian War, Late Indian War, Spanish-American War and World War II (German Calvary)
* Authenticity in uniform and horse equipment for each period
* Civilian and mounted impressions for the 18th and 19th centuries
* Cavalry trained in correct drill manual for the time period
* Horse trained for gun and artillery fire
* Horse-drawn artillery/harness
* Horse-drawn wagons/harness
* Break-away artillery limber/freight wagon
* Indian Saddle pads
* Transportation for wagons, military vehicles, horses and equipment
* Prop trailer, flatbed gooseneck, gooseneck horse trailers and livestock semi-trailer
* Crew coordinators and crew staff
* SAG riders, drivers and stunt men
* Correct horse accouterments and facing for regiments depicted

Story published Friday, November 7, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 6 )

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