Historical interpreter Dave Bescan of Grafton is used to playing war. He has "served" in the 9th Virginia Regiment -- a Revolutionary War-era battalion that helped settle Ohio -- since 1972, enduring wool uniforms in summer and close-range musket fire for the sake of history. It was thus natural that, as some of his college buddies began consulting for TV and Hollywood, Bescan and friends began showing up on PBS, the History Channel, and in documentaries for the national parks. From there, it was a short jump to helping fill the ranks in Revolutionary War-era epics such as Last of the Mohicans and, most recently, The Patriot, which opens nationwide this week.
"[The producers] wanted people that have been doing this for years," Bescan explains. "They wanted us already trained. They didn't want people screwing up on camera; they didn't want them being afraid of musket fire."
Appearing in films about his favorite era of warfare is both a blessing and a curse for Bescan. "Even when we did Bicentennial reenactments, we had a tendency of not wanting to portray casualties, because we thought it was silly, and you couldn't do it right," he says, citing the accuracy of the battle scenes in The Patriot, right down to musket shells made from reproduction 18th-century newspaper. But there was a drawback.
"You get this intense four or five minutes like real warfare, then it's another 40 minutes replanning and refitting ground explosions." In which time the magic was usually lost, as the troops went through a barrage of makeup reapplications while Mel Gibson horsed around with his hard-rubber rifle. "He was throwing it up in the air and catching it, like a drum major, when he didn't have anything else to do," Bescan says. "He joked around -- he was like he is in the movies, just about. Real humble."
On the flipside, when Gibson was filming his lines, it was Bescan and crew standing around with little to occupy them. "The fantasy is ruined, because I know what's going on outside the frame," he admits. "We could be right out of the shot, just standing around BSing."
Even so, he feels The Patriot will surpass Last of the Mohicans for best epic about that era, though he's seen only 20 minutes of the completed film -- a midshoot bone thrown to the ranks, who began to quit at an alarming rate.
"Some of my friends get the idea that being on the set of a major motion picture is like party time," Bescan explains. "It's a job, and it's some of the hardest work I've done, considering the average day is 14 to 16 hours."
But good soldiers, of course, don't give up.