Boomer Q&A with Tom Farrell
The Dominion CEO talks to Shelly about getting out of the office to help create a movie about young VMI boys in the Civil War, Field of Lost Shoes
Thomas F. Farrell II is known in Richmond as chairman, president and CEO of Dominion, which is the parent company of Dominion Virginia Power and other firms. But he found a bit of downtime to collaborate with close friend Dave Kennedy on the screenplay for a soon-to-be-released movie, Field of Lost Shoes. We talked in Farrell’s office.
Here are excerpts.
Q. WE’RE WITH MR. TOM FARRELL, THE CEO AND CHAIRMAN OF DOMINION. OBVIOUSLY YOU HEAD UP A MAJOR CORPORATION. HOW IS IT THAT YOU HAVE HAD TIME TO BECOME SO INVOLVED WITH THIS CIVIL WAR MOVIE?
A. My interest in the story is probably 25 years in the making. The actual involvement with the movie, seriously getting involved in the movie, started about four years ago, when I convinced a friend of mine that we could actually make this into a project and make it into a movie. He and I were friends from college. He became a Navy fighter pilot, finished his 25-year career as the commander of the test pilot school for the Navy in California. And the point is, he would write screenplays for a hobby. So he’d be at sea for seven months, then he’d write screenplays. … We sort of decided, about four, four and half years ago, that we would try to write a script, which we did. … Then we thought, “You know, people might actually be interested in the story the way we wrote it.” And then we actually moved from there and raised money to make the movie and produced it and hired a director.
Q. THIS IS A VMI STORY, PROBABLY THE VMI STORY. SO TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THE STORY OF THE FIELD OF LOST SHOES.
A. Some people probably expect it to be a documentary in style, which it is not. Some people probably expect it to center around the Battle of New Market – this is the 150th anniversary coming up, the battle happened May 15 of 1864. The battle is in the movie. But there were 257 cadets who were involved in the battle. We made a story of about [only] seven of those cadets, six of them who are real historical figures and one we made up, was sort of a composite figure. This was a major battle that had over 30,000 people engaged on both sides. Took up a whole day. And the Confederate side was outnumbered, and the cadets were only supposed to be there as a reserve. They were very purposely not supposed to be engaged. The commander, General John Breckinridge, who had been vice president of the United States, by the way, … did not want them engaged. But circumstances in the battle forced him to use them in the battle. They charged across a farm. It was in May, it had rained almost straight for two weeks. And they ran across a planted field, up a hill. It was still freshly planted, very muddy. So as these boys – and they were boys, some of them, lots of them, were 15 years old – as they charged carrying heavy, Austrian-made muskets, as they charged up this field, they didn’t have combat boots like our soldiers do today. They were wearing shoes that they had marched for four days in the rain, 90 miles. And the mud in that field was so deep it sucked the shoes off their feet. So at the bottom of where they charged, lots of shoes were left after the battle. The boys charged up the hill; most of them were barefooted. So that area of the battlefield has always been called “Field of Lost Shoes,” and that name really captures our story. The movie is called Field of Lost Shoes because it is really centered on the story of these seven boys getting to know each other as they come to VMI, things that happen to them at VMI and then they’re engulfed in this battle as an afterthought.
Q. YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE A GREAT LOVE OF HISTORY. OF ALL THE BATTLES YOU COULD CHOOSE TO BECOME SO IMPASSIONED ABOUT, WHY THAT BATTLE?
A. I’ve had a great affection for military history for a long time, and so I’ve read a lot about it. … This story is truly unique. In the history of the United States military, it’s the only group of young boys who were engaged as a unit, ever, in a battle. We researched it very thoroughly, and we think there are very poignant, human stories that will appear in the movie that come from written accounts.
Q. QUITE A LABOR OF LOVE. YOU’VE SAID THAT MOST OF THE MOVIE, ALL OF THE MOVIE, WAS SHOT HERE IN CENTRAL VIRGINIA.
A. The movie was entirely shot in central Virginia. Does Lexington count as central Virginia? A week of the shooting was at VMI. … They’ve been very engaged in the movie.
Q. ARE THERE ANY MOVIE STARS? SOME NAMES WE MIGHT RECOGNIZE.
A. Tom Skerritt is in the movie. Tom Skerritt has been in 100, 200 movies. The commander of the top gun school in the movie Top Gun. He plays General Grant. There’s Jason Isaacs, who’s in the movie. He’s in all eight Harry Potter movies [in] the role of Malfoy. Incredibly talented guy. He plays General Breckinridge. David Arquette is in the movie. He plays a union captain. Lauren Holly is in the movie. And then the children, the younger actors, are: Nolan Gould. Nolan is in our movie. Zach Roerig, Luke Benward, Mary Mouser. There are a lot of people from central Virginia who participated in it.
Q. DO YOU KNOW OF ANY PLANS FOR RICHMOND PREMIERES?
A. We will have a premiere. Richmond is under consideration. And we do have a distribution agreement – to distribute the movie. So it will be in theaters. And when exactly, that’s more up to the distributor than it is up to us. [Editor’s note: The premier has since been confirmed for April 13 at the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage, by invitation only, with several hundred VMI cadets scheduled to march from the state Capitol to the theater. The general release was still unscheduled at press time.]
Q. YOU MENTIONED THAT MAY 15 IS THE 150TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE AT NEW MARKET, THE FIELD OF LOST SHOES. THE STORY THAT IS PRESENTED IN THIS MOVIE, IS THERE A MESSAGE THERE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE OF TODAY, SINCE THE STORY IS SO FOCUSED ON THE YOUNG VMI CADETS?
A. There’s, actually, I think a series of messages of the movie. You will have to wait until you see it, because there are parts of this movie that I don’t think people are going to expect to see at all. And there’s some dialogue that takes place about why they were fighting or why they’re about to fight. But the real theme of the movie is, it’s a movie about a rite of passage or coming-of-age story about seven young men who come from a variety of backgrounds. One of the primary characters is the first Jewish cadet at VMI, a young man named Moses Ezekiel, who is from Richmond. So they come from different backgrounds and in the interaction among them – as they get to know each other as cadets, as students, and then how they react when they’re put under this tremendous stress, and the relationship – that’s what it’s about. You could take this story … this could’ve happened in World War II, it could’ve happened in ancient Rome, it could’ve happened in the Spanish-American War, it could’ve happened in the Mexican-American War. It could have been cadets at a Mexican military school. But that never happened at any of those other places. This story happened in Virginia, in 1864, and it involves cadets from the Virginia Military Institute. But for Dave [Kennedy, who collaborated on the screenplay] and me, that’s coincidence. Because the story we wanted to tell was about what happens to these young boys.
Q. DO YOU THINK YOU’LL DO ANY OTHER MOVIES?
A. No! I promised my wife.
Q. GOD LOVE HER. ALL RIGHT, WELL, WE WILL DEFINITELY KEEP OUR EYES AND EARS OPENED FOR FIELD OF LOST SHOES. TOM FARRELL, GREAT TO MEET YOU, AND GOOD LUCK AT DOMINION RESOURCES AND GOOD LUCK WITH THIS MOVIE.
A. Thanks a lot, Shelly. I appreciate it.