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Carolina Stories

Chasing the Swamp Fox

Take a Closer Look at Francis Marion The name Francis Marion is a legendary one in South Carolina and almost everyone knows he was a great leader in the Revolutionary War. But what do we really know about the mysterious and elusive military genius? Two young filmmakers have tried to answer some of the many questions about the real Francis Marion in a film called Chasing the Swamp Fox.

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The name Francis Marion is a legendary one in South Carolina and almost everyone knows he was a great leader in the Revolutionary War. But what do we really know about the mysterious and elusive military genius? Two young filmmakers have tried to answer some of the many questions about the real Francis Marion in a film called Chasing the Swamp Fox. The producers, Dave Adams of ETV and artist/illustrator James Palmer, think of Chasing the Swamp Fox as a historical visualization rather than a traditional documentary.

Palmer is the son of former Greenville News political cartoonist and now children’s author/illustrator Kate Salley Palmer, as well as a life-long Revolutionary War enthusiast. “I wanted to tell the story of Francis Marion that tried to get beyond the myth and legend, and part of that was including realistic likenesses of Marion,” says Palmer. “So I approached my childhood friend, Dave Adams, with the idea of putting together a historical visualization of Marion that tells the story of his stunning and innovative military successes against the British. He was as intrigued as I was and we set out to work together to bring this project to life.” Adams says the project was an exciting one “because the initial research and artwork James had done was so strong.”

In Chasing the Swamp Fox, Adams pulls together a variety of mediums ranging from footage of actual historical Francis Marion sites to interviews with historians to Palmer’s artwork to create a film that is interesting not just for its factual content but its visual style. Marion is credited with defeating British troops in South Carolina by using guerilla-like warfare that he had learned fighting against the American Indians. British troops were unprepared to deal with the hit and run tactics of Marion and his men who would then disappear back into the swamps after their attacks, giving Marion his nickname, “The Swamp Fox.”

Marion was a charismatic leader, inspiring great loyalty and admiration among his men most likely because he endured the same hardships they did without using his rank to gain privileges. The visualization of Marion himself was difficult because no likeness of him was painted during his lifetime. Says Palmer, “A lot of history textbooks show portrayals of him as a dashing Revolutionary War hero, when in fact he was small and swarthy and not particularly physically attractive. I had to do a lot of research for physical descriptions of Marion, and the best one came from letters from William James, who was a 15-year-old member of Marion's brigade.”

The film is a unique blend of footage of historic Francis Marion sites throughout South Carolina, and interviews with noted historians such as Walter Edgar, Roy Talbert of Coastal Carolina and Dan Littlefield of USC. Yet the illustrations are what set this film apart. Says Palmer, “Once my research was complete, I ‘painted’ the portraits digitally on my computer so that I could manipulate them as part of the film. I didn't want flat, static pictures, so by creating them on the computer I could create subtle movement and changes that made them dynamic. I think this has created something beyond a traditional documentary.”

Palmer and Adams grew up together as childhood friends in Clemson, and later were classmates at Clemson University. Palmer sees their collaboration on Chasing the Swamp Fox as “the best collaborative experience of my life.” Much of Adams’ enthusiasm for the project came from the little-known facts that emerge from learning about Marion. “South Carolina at the time was a real mix of ethnic heritages,” says Adams. “Whites, African Americans and American Indians all flowed freely together in the Lowcountry, and fought side by side against the British.”

Palmer and Adams both hope that the film sparks new interest in Marion and the important part South Carolina played in the Revolutionary War. “Someone told me that to leave out South Carolina's importance and central role in the Revolutionary War is like leaving out the Pacific battles of WWII,” says Palmer. “I hope that this generates some discussion, debate, and research about Marion and South Carolina's role in the Revolutionary War. One of the joys of working on this project was working with such knowledgeable historians. There is some great scholarship and research being done on Francis Marion, and hopefully seeing this film will encourage others to get interested and involved as well.” For Chasing the Swamp Fox, Dave Adams served as co-producer, director of photography and editor. James Palmer served as co-producer, writer and illustrator.

Behind the Scenes

Chasing the Swamp Fox - Behind the Scenes

Interview with Sanford Adams, Co-producer, director and editor

What was the inspiration behind making this program and its topic?

Chasing the Swamp Fox is a historical visualization of Francis Marion's partisan campaigns during the American Revolution in South Carolina. Featuring the artwork of Illustrator James H. Palmer, the program combines interviews with some of the state's most prominent historians and writers, including Walter Edgar, Roy Talbert, Christine Swager, Daniel Littlefield, and Archaeologist Steve Smith to paint a mosaic of what life was like in those years and how Marion's participation led to the birth of modern day guerilla warfare, not to mention the liberation of our country. It is an artistic approach to an age-old tale that incorporates the research of historical accounts, while delineating the contrast between folklore and fact to create a visually stunning and dramatic documentary on one of the south's most colorful historical figures.

If you could describe the production in one sentence what would it be?

It is an engaging academic dialogue and historical visualization about the role of the Revolutionary War's most forgotten leader.

What is the message that you want viewers to take away from the program?

The American Revolution was the United States first civil war; fought and won in South Carolina by a group of people who founded modern day guerilla warfare.

What was the most difficult part of making the production?

The most difficult part was determining a way to meld a documentary format with an illustrators work without it looking hokey or cartoon-like.

Because of a budget, were there any special tricks used to make the most out of a dollar without decreasing the quality of production?

Illustrator/ Writer/ Co-Producer worked for free!

Were there any unforeseen obstacles (weather, actors, etc) that hindered production?


Has making the program given you a new appreciation for anything?

Historical accuracy.

Was there extensive research done to ensure historical accuracy or was there more room for artistry?

The whole piece is truly an examination of historical accuracy and a conversation about perspective; it's relation to fact, and the loss of culture through time.

What type of feedback has this program received?

It has received much positive feedback with many individual sales orders.


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