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The Telegram
  • Making of a documentary

  • An infamous murderer with a far-off gaze and grim face walked past the 1834 Herkimer County Jail cells Wednesday on his way to be executed.

    At least that’s what the script said.

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  • An infamous murderer with a far-off gaze and grim face walked past the 1834 Herkimer County Jail cells Wednesday on his way to be executed.
    At least that’s what the script said.
    Based on the iconic events surrounding the murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette in 1906, and his execution in 1908, a small group of filmmakers shot scenes this week in the very cell that housed Gillette.  
    Two video production professors from Southern Connecticut State University, along with several students and other contributors, had come across the over 100-year-old tragedy basically by chance and after a little research received a grant to make a documentary.
    With several versions of the murder mystery having already been told - most notably in the novel “An American Tragedy” and the movie “A Place in the Sun” - Derek Taylor, producer and director, had unknowingly been exposed to some of the details.
    But a lecture by Herkimer County Historical Society members two years ago inspired Taylor to film a documentary on the case. “I was familiar with ‘A Place in the Sun,’ but I didn’t know it was about this,” he admitted.
    Taylor then filmed interviews with local experts on the crime and submitted them as part of the successful grant application through the college.
    Hoping to be “historically accurate,” as opposed to fictional renderings in books, movies and on stage, the documentary’s aim became tackling all elements of a very involved story: A murder trial sensationalized in newspapers; Gillette declaring his innocence of drowning his pregnant girlfriend; and doubts raised long after the guilty verdict and execution.         
    Armed with a “micro budget” of about $10,000, he set out to make a film with as much authenticity as possible.
    For the murder scene, which took place on Big Moose Lake in Herkimer County, the crew used a lake by Hamilton College. And while similar locations in upstate New York were used for several other sequences, Taylor knew one scene would really benefit from the real thing: The jail cell.
    Working to gain access through the Friends of Historic Herkimer County, a group that maintains the 1834 jail, Taylor secured his connection to history.
    The seven crew members and three actors scrambled throughout the jail Wednesday, attempting to reproduce history.   
    Using photos from the Historical Society as a guide, Gillette’s actual cell was once again adorned with prints and a lone wooden chair where he sat awaiting transfer to Auburn Prison for execution.
    And his walk to the electric chair in Auburn was also shot this week on the women’s side of the 1834 jail. 
    The jail scenes will be interspersed with other live-action sequences, interviews and numerous photos and artifacts from historical societies.
    Page 2 of 2 - Taylor plans to complete extensive post-production work at his college by early next summer. 
     

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