Santa Cruz Good Times

Oct 13th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

War Of Words

aeSanta Cruz native opens up about his creative role in Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln biopic

Now that our collective post-election hangover has mostly subsided, politics are probably the last thing you’re looking for in an escape outing at the movies. But Steven Spielberg’s new film—about the triumph of the political process in a time of near-apocalyptic social discord—might surprise you.

Toby Thiermann, a filmmaker from local production studio Impact Media Group, worked on Lincoln for six months of last year and was on the set in Virginia for the duration of filming.

The biopic, which covers the final four months of the title character’s life, details his struggle with the ongoing Civil War, as well as his clashes with members of his own cabinet regarding the decision to abolish slavery.

Thiermann’s contributions to the film were threefold: assisting Oscar-winning production designer Rick Carter, shooting behind-the-scenes documentary footage, and appearing in the film in a cameo role as a cartographer.

As written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, Lincoln is the most performance-driven film of Spielberg’s career, which means that the production design and set decoration play a crucial role in the blocking of a scene and how actors interact with the constructed space. “The production designer touches the script before anyone gets there, so Rick envisions these environments ahead of time, and we took a huge amount of effort in order to ae-3 In his cameo role as a cartographer, Toby Thiermann appears in a scene with Daniel Day-Lewis.allow the director and the actors to feel comfortable and natural within them,” says Thiermann.

Part of that effort is the painstaking lengths for historical accuracy. “We recreated the second floor of the White House, almost to scale, inside this huge warehouse in Virginia,” Thiermann says, reflecting on one of the many sets he helped construct. “And we tried to match historical pictures to make even the wallpaper accurate to the type and the design of wallpaper that Lincoln may have had in his White House, and we had that custom hand-printed in Virginia.”

ae-2Santa Cruz’s own Toby Thiermann on the set of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, in which he played the Union cartographer.In addition to Lincoln’s numerous Oscar-recognized below-the-line artists, you would be hard-pressed to find a film with a deeper bench of acting talent. Several inches of column space could be spent simply listing names from the enormous ensemble, but it is headlined by a pair of two-time Oscar winners, Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, who play the president and first lady, respectively.

In his cameo role as a cartographer—“It’s funny because my family actually owns a local map company here in Santa Cruz,” he says—Thiermann appears in a scene with Day-Lewis, as one of the beneficiaries of a long-winded joke told by Lincoln.

Day-Lewis’ performance as the nation’s 16th president counterintuitively complements his seismic turn as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and adds to the actor’s still-growing legend. Aside from those aforementioned Oscars—not to mention an acclaimed overall body of work—Day-Lewis is famous for his complete inhabitation of a character for the duration of a film’s shooting schedule.

It is a process that has become almost mythical in its retelling, but to what extent is the myth a reality? “It’s a complete reality,” says Thiermann. “Daniel was in character the entire time, even when he wasn’t on set. He lived in a period home, he wore period clothes, and he slept in a period bed, and those were all things that he requested so he could really become Abe Lincoln while he was there.”

Moreover, Day-Lewis’ preparation for and devotion to his role benefited the rest of the set, according to Thiermann. “I think it changes everyone’s dynamic when you’re working with an actor that’s that serious,” he says.

That sentiment has stayed with Thiermann long after leaving the set. “I think being involved in a project like Lincoln—once you taste that level of professionalism and talent—it inspires you to do your best work and to try and work with people that are at that level,” he says.

Thiermann believes that audiences will find something to take away from the film as well. “It’s a really awesome piece of American history,” he says. “To learn that Lincoln was such an influential president, and he put so much on the line for his ideals and his beliefs—he’s profoundly affected the direction of our nation.” 

‘Lincoln’ is currently in theaters.

Photos: Toby Thiermann

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Hot in Here

This ain’t no Burning Man—the MAH’s GLOW festival flames on


Mercury Direct in Libra, Columbus Day, Libra New Moon

Mercury completes its retrograde Friday, poised stationary direct Friday evening at zero degrees Libra. Mercury begins its journey through Libra once again, completing its retrograde shadow Oct. 12. Things should be a bit less complicated by then. Daily life works better, plans move forward, large purchases can be made, and communication eases. Everything on hold during the retrograde is slowly released. Since we eliminated all thoughts and ideas no longer needed (the purpose of Mercury’s retrograde) during the retrograde, we can now gather new information—until the next retrograde occurs on Jan. 5, 2016 (1.3 degrees Aquarius), retrograding back to 15 degrees Capricorn on Jan. 25. It’s good to know beforehand when Mercury will retrograde next—Jan. 5, the day before Epiphany. On Monday is Columbus Day, when the sailor from Genoa arrived in the new lands (Americas), Oct. 12, 1492. This discovery by Columbus was the first encounter of Europeans with Native Americans. Other names for this day are “Discovery Day, Day of the Americas, Cultural Diversity Day, Indigenous People’s Day, and Dia de la Raza.” Italian communities especially celebrate this day. Oct. 12 is also Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Monday is also the (19 degrees) Libra new moon festival. Libra’s keynote while building the personality is, “Let choice be made.” Libra is the sign of making life choices. Often under great tension of opposing forces seeking harmony and balance. There is a battle between our lower (personality) and higher selves (soul). We are tested and called to cultivate right judgment and love. When we align with the will-to-good, right choice, then right judgment and love/wisdom come forth. Our tasks in Libra. 


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Film, Times & Events: Week of October 9

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Seoul Food

Santa Cruz’s new Sesame Korean is a great introduction to an ancient culinary tradition


Is there evil in the world?

Yes, some people don’t think right because they have been treated badly. Milo Robbins, Scotts Valley, Second Grade


Dos Aguilas Olive Oil

Aptos company is letting locals pick their own olives in October


What’s your biggest pet peeve?

When people say they’re “going down” somewhere, and they’re actually traveling north. Julia Ragen, Santa Cruz, Psychologist