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Show business means big business

August 27, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

The Civil War film "Gods and Generals" could generate from $12 million to $20 million for the local economy if the motion picture is made, officials said Wednesday.

The filming of the picture could generate between $600,000 and $1 million per week of filming, said Michael Styer, director of the Maryland Film Office.

But first, local government and business leaders need to raise $500,000 in pledges to guarantee preproduction funding, and filmmakers must raise $30 million to $40 million to finance the movie, officials said.

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Farmers & Merchants Bank and Trust will extend a $500,000 line of credit for preproduction, if local leaders can raise the pledges to pay off the loan in case the film is never made, said Dennis Frye, president of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites Inc. The nonprofit preservation group helped lure the film to Washington County.

So far, about $150,000 is still needed in pledges, according to Michael Callas, the president of Callas Contractors Inc., who is leading the effort to obtain pledges. Callas said he wants to have the pledges by the 135th Commemoration of the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 12-14.

The Washington County Commissioners have pledged up to $250,000 if it is matched, Callas said.

Commissioner James R. Wade said he was the sole dissenting vote against using taxpayer money to back the private project.

"I'm just strongly opposed to using tax dollars to guarantee loans for any private businesses," Wade said. That should be left up to banks and individuals, he said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the film as well as plans for using the permanent set as a living history tourist attraction will greatly affect the community.

"It's another arm of economic development that has never been pursued before in Washington County," Snook said.

The City of Hagerstown and Phoenix Color Corp. will each put up $50,000 to guarantee the loan, Callas said. An unidentified Maryland delegate also made a $1,000 pledge.

Frye said the state hasn't provided any guarantee money, but was confident the state would become partners in the project in some way.

Director Ronald F. Maxwell said he is talking to film studios, such as Warner Brothers, for financing as well as nontraditional sources outside Hollywood.

Microsoft and a petroleum company are among possible investors who could underwrite the cost of building the studios, Snook said.

Maxwell said he expects 20 weeks of filming spread over four seasons that could start as soon as next spring.

About half of the film's anticipated 250 crew members would be from the region, including Baltimore, he said.

That means at least half of the crew will need places to stay as well as a cast of 150 to 200 people, Maxwell said.

Maxwell said he's hoping to attract 10,000 re-enactors for the big battle scenes. Re-enactors could camp out or stay in hotels, he said.

Maxwell said local contracts probably will be awarded for construction of sets, food, sanitation and horses needed for the Civil War epic.

"The movie itself would really put Antietam smack in the middle of the map," said Jim Kell, vice president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The effects of the film on attracting tourists to the area could last for 10 to 12 years, Kell said.

"It's like having a tremendous business that comes to town and doesn't go bankrupt," he said.

"You're going to get a large impact. It's a great economic coup and it brings a lot of excitement to the community," said Jack Lyburn, director of economic development for Carroll County, Md.

Carroll County, Md., hosted the filming of the romantic comedy "For Richer or Poorer," which is due out in theaters this Christmas, Lyburn said. The film had a similar-sized budget to "Gods and Generals."

Crew members filled local hotels and stars Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley rented houses, Lyburn said.

Hotels also got business from fans wanting to watch the filming, he said.

The average person probably spent $60 a day during shooting, Lyburn said.

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