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About the television series

F.S. Key: After the Song

Release Date: February 15, 2017
Rating: PG-13

Year    :   February 15, 2017
By    :   Maryland Public Television & American Photoplay
Slogan    :   Understanding the past is the key to our future.
Genre    :   Documentary, History, Political, Current Events
Time    :   3 x 56:46 / 169 min. total
Budget    :   $350 000
Age    :   16+

A contemporary and compelling look at slavery through an ambitious docudrama series for national public television. F.S. Key After the Song continues the story of Francis Scott Key’s life and times after his writing of a song that would become the national anthem in 1814. It takes a fresh approach to a period in our history that has been long overlooked. The three part series will be a window into antebellum society and the attitudes and behavior of Americans on slavery that lead to Civil War and in some ways still exist to this day.

STYLE APPROACH AND AESTHETICS The filmmaker, Philip J. Marshall has crafted this project in the participatory style developed for his earlier film, F.S. Key and the Song that Built America. Participatory documentaries believe that it is impossible for the act of filmmaking to not influence or alter the events being filmed. “The filmmaker steps out from behind the cloak of voice-over commentary, steps away from poetic meditation, steps down from a fly-on-the-wall perch, and becomes a social actor (almost) like any other. (Almost like any other because the filmmaker retains the camera, and with it, a certain degree of potential power and control over events.)” The encounter between filmmaker and subject becomes a critical element of the film and especially necessary in the filmmaker’s unique approach.

The film series expands and centers on interviews between the filmmaker and a group of historical “Ghost” characters, treated as if they were alive and scripted so they appear to be back from the grave and questioned directly about various subjects and events involving their relationship and knowledge of Mr. Key. Some of the main historical voices chosen to include in the film are, Mary Tayloe Lloyd Key (Polly), reprised by Debora Hazlet; President Andrew Jackson played by Gary Sandy, and Roger B. Taney played by Boyd Gaines, among others, thirteen in total, who discuss and explore the events of Francis Scott Key’s life. In order to script the “Ghost” interviews the filmmaker relied on historical letters and documents written by or about the characters and used additional information acquired through interviews with PhD’s, authors and experts on each historical subject. Portions of these historian interviews plus the filmmaker’s visitation and on-site filming at 75 locations in 15 states where events took place are interwoven along with the “Ghost” interviews into a collective conversation, and sprinkled with some recreations of historical events and other special effects. The filmmaker has chosen never to meet or see Mr. Key as he was such a paradox of an individual. He wants the picture of the films main subject (Francis Scott Key) to be imagined individually in each viewer’s mind based on the personal interpretation of the story told.

To the filmmaker’s knowledge the only other project that has attempted anything similar in this approach was the CBS children’s series of the 1950’s and 1960’s called “You are There,” Where news reporters spoke to George Washington after crossing the Delaware, etc. The filmmaker feels his unique approach to storytelling is new ground and demonstrates a potentially valuable technique for teaching complex history in an entertaining way.

Part-One of F.S. Key After the Song is sub-titled: “The Era of Good Feelings” Shortly after the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814 Francis Scott Key becomes wildly famous. His song had already traveled to New Orleans and was sung at the last battle of the War of 1812 that January of 1815. This battle was the foundation for Andrew Jackson’s presidency and along with it Frank Key’s destiny. As Key struggles with his newfound fame due to his song he begins a series of philanthropic efforts, some religious in nature but all revolving around slavery. He and his brother-in-law Roger B. Taney become known for representing slaves, and along with John Randolph, a brilliant and eccentric congressman from Virginia and close friend of Frank Key, other issues of slavery are explored and discussed. We also explore 19th century medicine through Frank Key’s experience with Dr. Philip Syng Physick of Philadelphia who operates on Frank’s kidney stones. The death of one of Frank’s young son’s becomes a major turning point for him and he begins to change, notably demonstrated by his joining of a literary men’s club where he writes an erotic poem. Part one ends with stories of Andrew Jackson’s first run for the presidency, the dirtiest campaign in American history, that resulted in Jackson losing to John Quincy Adams and partisan politics ruling Washington.

Part-Two of F.S. Key after the Song is titled: “Might Versus Right” The heated 1824 election of John Quincy Adams is decided on irreparable political means and John Randolph, now in the Senate, will slyly begins to exploit it leading to a duel between Randolph and Henry Clay that ends peacefully but leaves an indelible mark on the Key family. Frank becomes quite a conspicuous leader of the colonization movement and he assists in the Antelope case that forces the subject of slavery upon the Supreme Court for the first time. It’s said to be Frank’s finest hour. In 1828 Jackson is overwhelmingly elected but the sudden death of his wife results in a scandal that nearly ends his presidency. Frank Key, working for all sides, becomes involved in the scandalous imbroglio that becomes known as the Petticoat Affair. We explore Nat Turner who leads the first meaningful rebellion against slavery and ignites the abolitionist movement but the resulting fear of slave revolts will set a collision course for Francis Scott Key. Jackson now well impressed with Frank champions him as lead defense council of staunch Jacksonian Sam Houston and cements Jackson’s support. We’ll discuss how the quick thinking of Martin Van Buren neatly ended the Petticoat Affair that consumed most of Jackson’s first term. Randolph becomes suspicious of Jackson’s growing effect on Frank and his strong central government leanings but takes a short lived appointment as ambassador to Russia.

Part-Three of F.S. Key after the Song is titled: “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely” Randolph unexpectedly returns home; weak, sickly and now a drug addict. Juba his slave and companion recounts his unusual and almost theatrical death scene and we explore the story, his will’s, and the freeing of his slaves. Francis Scott Key is devastated by his death but Jackson appoints him Chief Prosecutor for Washington, DC but now without his friend and advisor. The Creek Indian lands on the border of Georgia and Alabama turn into something resembling Israel and the Palestinians and Jackson sends Frank to settle a land dispute that could have ignited a civil war right then. Frank ends up settling the issue and also having an affair with the Governor’s wife. We’ll explore how Frank had become part of Jackson’s inner circle, his kitchen cabinet and now also becomes a full blown partisan warrior at a picnic for Roger Taney in Frederick in August 1834. It will be the first time he publicly speaks about his writing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Meanwhile the abolitionists movement is growing and they begin a direct mail campaign to the South that shakes up Jackson and becomes another piece in the the puzzle of Frank’s life. On August 8, 1835 a young slave, Arthur Bowen, is arrested, for carrying an axe into his owner’s quarters. The event sparks what becomes known as The Snow Riots. It leads Frank to an extraordinary courtroom drama that pits his Colonization Society head to head against the Abolitionists. Serendipitously, it took a duel and the untimely death of another of Key’s sons, Daniel to end the entire ordeal, but also seems to end Franks public political career as he feels disgraced and forsaken by the public for the rest of his life, and tries to figure out why he and his compatriots views on slavery were wrong. We end our investigation by asking his brother-in-law why he decided Dred Scott as he did, to try to find the answers which don’t surprise us.

Production of F.S. Key After the Song began in January 2015 and will continue through 2016 with the premiere broadcast targeted for July 2017. We have funded the program thus far through grants from the Delaplaine Foundation of Frederick, Maryland and some other philanthropic donations. However we are seeking additional corporate and philanthropic underwriting of $150,000 to complete and distribute the program. You can donate yourself specifically and directly to this project right now and help this project reach it’s full potential by clicking the button below. Your name will be listed as a donor on the film and website. MPT is a state agency and it’s Foundation is a 501c3 corporation so donations are tax deductible as allowed by law. All donations must be disclosed in the film credits and website.

Watch Andrew Jackson being questioned about the $20 Bill



This is a sample of Gary Sandy's performance of Andrew Jackson for the upcoming series release next February.