War Horse on Your Coffee Table: A Lavish New Book Details How–and Why–the Film Was Made

The dramatic title page sets the stage for many beautiful spreads to follow.

Every once in a while, a book comes along that belongs not in your barn, not in your truck and not even in your office. Not on a shelf, either. No, this book belongs on your coffee table, or maybe in the waiting room of a  vet clinic or tack shop.

If you don’t have a coffee table, you might want to go buy one so you can open this large-format book out flat and turn the pages, one by one.

Over the years, this blog has been the champion of the story of War Horse, from the very time it opened as a play in London in 2007. We support the “horse” in War Horse, and want to know everything we can about the horses in the film, the play and the real war horses of World War I.

warhorsenews GOLD logo SMALLWe had a “Making of War Horse” book about the play, which explained the puppets.

And now we have a rich velvety guide to the making of the motion picture. You can get lost in the photos, they’re so large and so deeply inked. And you will, believe me.

When director Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks Pictures authorized a beautiful coffee table book about how the film was made, there was no question that it had to be worth a look.

What I wasn’t expecting: that I’d keep looking and looking and looking at this beautiful book.

The oversized (12 x 9″) book is printed in color, with massive full page photos taken during the production of the film. It is hardcover, with thick, high-quality paper and dust jacket.

War Horse: The Making of the Motion Picture has several forewords–including one by Steven Spielberg, one by producer Kathleen Kennedy, one by original author Michael Morpurgo and one by screenwriter Richard Curtis. Spielberg’s is especially compelling, as it offers insight into why he chose to translate the story to the screen.

After these formalities, you meet 21 cast members with a portrait of each in costume. They’re arranged in the order in which they appeared in the film, for easy reference.

Then the book reveals its heart: the story of War Horse and how the cast and crew collaborated to get it onto film. As always the natural scenery of Devon, England is dazzling in color, just as the dreary, unnatural scenery of The Front, No Man’s Land, and the trenches are monochromatic and foreboding.

The story of War Horse is told in three sections:

Part 1: Joey’s Journey—A visual retelling, along with script excerpts and filmmakers’ comments, of the journey taken by Joey, the war horse and his beloved Albert, from the striking verdant countryside of Dartmoor, Devon, to training in the British cavalry, to trench warfare in France.

Part 2: The Making of War Horse—An insider’s glimpse of the movie-making process highlighted with fascinating insights from the international cast and the crew about the casting, locations, costumes, horse training, and much more.

Part 3: The History of War Horses—An illuminating section on the role of horses in battle, illustrated with iconic images from history, vivid drawings, paintings and photographs.

The book has stills unseen or seldom seen shot during production. Some are stretched across two huge pages, creating a mural effect. (© Newmarket Press | DreamWorks Pictures photo)

There are also beautiful sketches of set designs from the art directors  and even storyboards of how scenes like the barbed wire entrapment were sequenced.

Is it a Hollywood book? A history book? A horse book? Or all of these? I think this book is what you want it to be. It’s an enhancement of your experience viewing the film (or, one day, the DVD) and a tribute to the artists, the actors, the technical geniuses, the land and especially the horses who moved you then, and will again, with the turn of every page.

War Horse: The Making of the Motion Picture was published December 27, 2011 by Newmarket Press. Format: Hardcover; trimsize: 12 x 9; pages: 144;  full color throughout. Cost per book $35 plus postage and handling; Ages: written for adults, with some technical references, but I think a horse-crazy teen would do fine with this book. And love it! Click here to order your copy!

Photos in this post © Fran Jurga and Equisearch.com, still images from the film and shown on pages are property of Newmarket Press and DreamWorks Pictures. No use without permission.

Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by Equisearch.com.

War Horse Farrier: Brendan Murray Speaks to Samantha Clark About How He Helped Joey Keep His Shoes On

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Napoleon once said that an army moves on its stomach. But the cavalry moves on its hooves, and it took an army of farriers–called “shoeing smiths” by the British military–to keep the horses moving in World War I.

But what about a film crew? And what about the production of Steven Spielberg’s film War Horse in England in 2010?

War Horse News gold logo (small)DreamWorks Pictures learned the importance of a farrier too, especially when Roger, a plow-horse lookalike for Joey, kept stepping on (and thereby pulling off) his shoes in the furrow.

“Cut!” “Get the farrier up here!” “Where’s the farrier?”

And not only did the farrier have to keep putting shoes back on in the midst of many shoots that were mired in mud: director Spielberg put location farrier Brendan Murray to work in the forge in the shoeing scene. They turned the camera on him and his apprentice for the crucial background action in the scene where Joey meets Topthorn while the two are waiting to be shod.

You’ll hear all about it in this interview with Great Britain’s international eventing team farrier Brendan Murray, a seasoned veteran of both shoeing and riding for film productions!

Brendan was interviewed by Lexington, Kentucky’s freelance equestrian media pro Samantha L. Clark of eventingnation.com and many other audio, video and web projects for the horse world. This is Samantha’s first “guest blog” under the banner War Horse News and it’s appropriate that it arrived as a media file, instead of a text document or an image file

Brendan Murray

British eventing team farrier Brendan Murray "kitted out" for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. (Photo links to Brendan's Zimbio page)

About Brendan Murray
Brendan has been associated as eventing team farrier with the British Equestrian Federation and Team GBR for many years. He has served at five Olympic Games, three World Equestrian Games, and many European championships. He was flag bearer for Great Britain and led his country into the arena in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, as chosen by the athletes.

Brendan is retired as a farrier in the British military’s esteemed King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery; among his duties was serving as brakeman for the gun carriage loaded with the casket of Princess Diana at her funeral in 1997. Among Brendan’s film on-screen credits are Gladiator, Robin Hood and 2012′s Snow White and the Huntsman.

You might enjoy a video interview by Samantha Clark with Brendan at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

Samantha Clark, 2010 Radio Show host

Samantha Clark

About Samantha Clark: Who is she? Then: eventer, NPR news anchor, and (most recently) co-host of the 2010 Radio Show about the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Now: armed with social media, camera, video and a smart phone, she knows no bounds.

Samantha says of herself: “I’m thrilled to have my blog on EventingNation.com as an excuse to pursue an incurable curiosity about anything to do with horses (especially eventing), satisfy my wanderlust and aid in my determination to cling to my English roots. I’m often accompanied by two small children–sometimes helpful, sometimes a hindrance–and almost always by a beautiful, black Labrador who is perfect company!”

Samantha’s blog is a must-read on the web and she is equally a must-follow on Twitter: @samanthalclark for great horse tweets from Kentucky and the eventing world.

More about Samantha Clark


Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by Equisearch.com.

How Did Joey Jump Into the Trench? Behind the Scenes of War Horse with the American Humane Association Film Unit

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Well, how did he?

Hang on, War Horse News readers, you’re about to go behind the scenes for the play-by-play!

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War Horse News has some exciting behind-the-scenes information for you about War Horse. We have some scene descriptions from the American Humane Association’s monitors. These descriptions stem from the involvement and presence of Barbara Carr, the American Humane Association Certified Animal Safety Representative™, on the set. Barbara worked hand in hand with Spielberg scenebuilders and the animal handlers and trainers to see that the horses were never in danger of being harmed.

This rating is not a rubber stamp. The American Humane Association spent 1,100 hours over a four-month period overseeing the production.

Throughout the project, the production complied with AHA’s rigorous guidelines to ensure the safety of the animals, and War Horse ultimately earned American Humane Association’s highest certification rating, Monitored: Outstanding – “No Animals Were Harmed.”®

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Learn more about the No Animals Were Harmed rating–and hear Steven Spielberg comment on working with the AHA on the set of War Horse.

If you’re like me, you assumed that DreamWorks must have brought in one of William Fox-Pitt‘s three-day-event horses to jump the trenches in the No Man’s Land scene of the movie. DreamWorks has used this footage extensively in the trailers, so I don’t think I’m giving away any of the plot!

But no, that wasn’t the British Eventing team doing a warmup for this summer’s Olympics in London. It was stunt horses, doing their job, and film editors doing theirs.

But how did they get that shot where Joey is galloping madly over and through the trenches; at one point, he misses his jump and tumbles down into the trench. Or seems to. We all held our breath as he scrambled to his feet and used his front hooves to pull himself up and out over the side of the trench.

War Horse News Joey No Mans Land

A lone horse gallops through No Man's Land in the climactic scene of Steven Spielberg's War Horse. © DreamWorks Picture image, all rights reserved.

Here’s what the American Humane Association had to say about that scene:

No Animals Were Harmed American Humane Association “For the scene where the horse jumps into the trench, this involved separate shots of two different horses: one ran from point A to point B across the flat part of the ‘trench’ set, and right when that horse ran past the camera mark, the second horse was cued to run from the widest part of the bottom of the trench up a custom-built, wide ‘stairs-like’ ramp and over the other side of the trench; finally, one of the horses was cued to lay down in the trench bottom and then get right back up.

This was all edited together to look like one motion.”

War Horse News on the Set: Behind the Scenes at the Village Horse Auction

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Welcome to Castle Combe; here’s a brief video survey of the village shot earlier this year after the War Horse crew was long gone. But you can bet that this pretty and ancient village will be on the tourist map now that War Horse is out!

Filming of War Horse bounced around the southwest of England from Devon to Surrey and back again. Most of the countryside shown so beautifully in the film is in Devon, in an area called Dartmoor. But a really special place was at the heart of the film: the village. You probably know from watching the trailers, even if you haven’t seen the film yet, that Albert’s father buys a horse at the village auction. This is a critical seen in the film and it is beautifully staged and acted.

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We see the village again when the British military comes to town and takes Joey away.

Edward Lawrence is a local teen on his way to being the next Spielberg. For War Horse to be shot near his home was an answer to the budding filmmaker’s dreams–and he was able to meet Steven Spielberg on the set! Ed has kindly edited his still shots into a video montage of the classic hurry-up-and-wait scenario of film sets. But you do feel like you’re there!

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Remember that idyllic village you saw in the last video? Here it is transformed into a movie set, and filled with hundreds of crew, cast, extras, and (yes!) horses. Aspiring filmmaker–and A level student–Edward Lawrence shared these stills of the action.

Steven Spielberg’s location scouts didn’t have to do much to the village, but they did anyway. The scenes were filmed in Castle Combe in the county of Wiltshire, neat the ancient city of Bath. Do you remember reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in school and his character The Wife of Bath on her horse? Castle Combe was a thriving metropolis all the way back to Roman times.

Castle Combe has been called “the prettiest village in England” and when people sigh about the loveliness of the region of England known as the Cotswolds, they have a vision of Castle Combe in mind. This area is also not far from the homes of the Badminton and Gatcombe horse trials, if you’re an eventing afficionado.

And if your taste runs to the occult, Castle Combe is a stone’s throw, so to speak, from the mysterious landscape of prehistoric Stonehenge.

And if you want to live the War Horse life–Hollywood style, that is–be sure to plan to stay at the Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe. They’re even having a War Horse special! Vacation like it’s 1914…

To learn more:

Be sure to follow the links in the story and also read the article “Spielberg rides ‘War Horse’ to hellish World War I”; it was published in USA Today in the fall. In it, you’ll learn that Steven Spielberg collects Norman Rockwell’s art.

Follow Ed Lawrence–this student filmmaker is going places–on Twitter: @edlawrence365; his YouTube channel is Ed Lawrence Productions.


Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by Equisearch.com.