Originally published on Sept. 20, 2012
Call it a case of delayed gratification.
Seven years delayed, actually.
The reward for all that waiting was, for five area men, a few seconds of face time on screen, their voices providing a backdrop for a somber movie scene - and their names in the credits.
"And then it says, ‘Campfire Singers,'" says Huntington resident Rick Henly, one of the five, as he watches the credits for "DogJack" roll nearly to the end.
"And there we are."
The credits list five names - Henly; his son, Drew Henly; Rich McConnell; and Jim Kline, all of Huntington, and Gary Bugge, of Fort Wayne.
As members of the Civil War-era vocal group the Company Singers, they had piled in a car on a weekend in 2005 for a five-hour-plus trip to Darlington, PA. Their assignment: provide some ambience around the campfire as the soldier-actors in the movie contemplated a coming battle. They finished their part in the movie about 1:30 the next morning, then piled back in the car for the return trip to Huntington.
They waited for word that the move had been completed.
Then waited some more.
And then ...
"A couple of weeks ago, Jim Kline's daughter called and said, ‘Hey Dad, I found your movie at Walmart,'" Henly says.
Only days after that discovery, each of the five got the DVD of the movie - a DVD they'd been promised seven years earlier - in the mail.
"We never did get our poster," Henly says.
"DogJack," played in a few theaters but never widely released, was now available for public consumption.
The independently-produced movie, based on a book of the same name written by Florence Biros, was inspired by the true story of a young Union soldier and his dog, Jack, who becomes the regiment's mascot during the Civil War.
"They made this movie on a shoestring," Henly says.
The Company Singers, a group that now performs together very infrequently, got involved when the producers put out a call for re-enactors.
"If they need anybody to sing songs around the campfire, we're the group," Henly remembers thinking.
Several emails later, they'd made a date. The Company Singers were scheduled to be a part of a scene that would shoot on Aug. 6, 2005.
Once they had piled out of the car in Pennsylvania at the appointed place and time, they found a group of people huddled in a circle.
Someone said, "That's it; we're done," and the singers became a little concerned. When someone else told the singers that shooting had been shut down for the day following a series of disagreements, they became downright worried.
"We said, ‘Wait a minute, we just drove over from Indiana to be in this campfire scene," Henly says.
"Come back tomorrow or Monday," they were told. That wasn't going to work - Drew Henly, 14 at the time, was set to leave for Michigan the following day for a Boy Scout outing.
The singers were invited to stay for dinner, where author Biros herself was among the servers dishing up the food.
After dinner, McConnell made a suggestion.
"Let's get out the instruments and start singing," he said, and they did.
They wandered around the movie site, singing to anyone they encountered.
During the impromptu concert, they made an impression: "You guys sound pretty good," one member of the movie crew said; and, "You should be in the movie."
"Finally, somebody of importance came out of the dormitory and asked if we could come back tomorrow," Henly says.
The Company Singers explained that no, they couldn't; and the man in charge finally agreed to pull everybody back and film the campfire scene.
By that time, they'd been singing for two or three hours.
"My voice was pretty shot after singing so long," Henly says. "Rich's was, too."
But this was their big chance, and they weren't going to miss it.
"When I got into Company Singers, my goal was to get into a movie," Henly says.
After debating between two songs _ "Goober Peas" and "Nearer My God to Thee" - the directors finally choose the second song, reasoning that it would fit better with the somber mood of the night before battle.
And so with strained voices and smoke in their faces, the Company Singers began to sing. They sang the song over and over and over again, accommodating different camera angles and stopping to teach the actors the words so it would appear that they were singing, too.
"We finally got done at 1:30 in the morning," Henly says. "Then we got back into the van and drove back to Indiana.
"We had a great time. It was fun, but it made for a very long day."
"DogJack" premiered in 2009 at the Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Pittsburgh, PA, and the Company Singers repeated the trip to Pennsylvania to sing at the hall prior to the movie screening.
"DogJack" was shown at several film festivals, winning Best Drama at the San Diego Black Film Festival, but the Company Singers had pretty much given up hope of ever seeing the movie - until Kline's daughter found it at the local store.
While the movie was never widely released in theaters, it is now available for rent through Redbox and for purchase at several department stores and book stores.