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Filmmaking could become a local industry, or The "Gods and Generals" experience could be snuffed as quickly as it ignited

Filmmaking could become a local industry, or The "Gods and Generals" experience could be snuffed as quickly as it ignited

February 11, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

kevinc@herald-mail.com

Under an overcast sky, a slight wind growing more fierce as time passes, Austin Flook, his son Dwayne and Dennis Frye pile into an old, dirty blue truck and head for the interior of Flook's farm along Dogstreet Road outside of Keedysville.

They follow a gravel road up one side of a hill and down the other, fields littered with the remnants of cornstalks. Spring wheat has been planted in its place.

It is quiet, the gentle rhythm of nature interrupted only by the truck's engine as it chugs across the rolling landscape. Spooked by the oncoming machine, a handful of deer scatter out of sight.

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Austin Flook stops his truck beyond sight of the main road, farmhouse and barn. The younger Flook says they have found remnants of the Civil War on the farm, bullets more than a century old and other artifacts.

Like much of the surrounding countryside, the land is steeped in Civil War history. But today, the trio is reminiscing about a more recent time, as they walk across a muddy field to where "Gods and Generals" once tread.

Each played a role in bringing director Ron Maxwell's film, prequel to his 1993 movie "Gettysburg," to life in Washington County.

Austin Flook gave up his 400-plus-acre spread for more than six months of 2001. Dwayne Flook appears in the film. And local historian Frye, the associate producer, scouted locations, worked with extras and most recently moderated a tour of universities with some of the film's actors.

Local premieres of the film are slated for this week in Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va. The movie bows in theaters nationwide Friday, Feb. 21.

A week before the Hagerstown screening, as patches of blue sky push gray clouds aside, no lights remain, no cameras are rolling. Yet the vivid action continues to unspool in their minds.

"It's so, so just like we were there," Frye says, perched on a rock that in fall 2001 supported a movie camera.

"It's just as fresh as if we did it this morning," he marvels. "It just flowed back into my head."

For more than an hour, they romp across the farm, spilling in and out of the truck to relive the glory of capturing a piece of Hollywood magic. This is where this battle was shot. That is the spot where 800 troops charged double quick for a great scene.

Later though, forearms crossed and resting on the edge of a table at the Old Pike Inn in Boonsboro, Frye dismisses talk of "Gods and Generals" as simply a combat movie.

"This is not a war movie," he says. "It is instead a movie about people, and how a war changed them or made them, and how war disrupted their lives and their families."

He might as well be describing the filming of "Gods and Generals" itself.

A labor of love for those involved, recruiting Maxwell to film the second of three movies in his planned Civil War opus was the first salvo in an effort to put the Tri-State region on the map for Hollywood productions.

The Baltimore-Washington corridor, with a ready supply of film laborers, remains the epicenter of filmmaking in Maryland, accounting for roughly 70 percent of filming days. Buoyed by the filming of "Homicide: Life on the Street" in Charm City a decade ago, Baltimore continues to host film crews, most recently the Chris Rock vehicle "Head of State" and the second season of HBO's "The Wire."

Still, as in real estate, moviemaking is dictated by location, and this is where the Maryland Film Office can play a role in promoting locations statewide, whether Washington County for "Gods and Generals," or the Eastern Shore town of Berlin, Md., used to film 2002's "Tuck Everlasting."

"Wherever the location is we will follow, whatever we need to do to get a production to locate in Maryland," says film office Director Jack Gerbes. "When we get the call, for instance, let's use 'Tuck' for an example. There were certain things 'Tuck Everlasting' needed to have for their film to work, one being a very idyllic looking town."

The film office, seven employees in Baltimore and another in Los Angeles, supplied producers with a variety of locations, including Hagerstown and Frederick, Md. The production settled on Berlin for a variety of reasons, from its look to the town's attitude toward Hollywood a few years before on the Julia Roberts romantic comedy "Runaway Bride."

Competition for film and television projects is fierce; in the continental U.S. alone, there are more than 180 film commissions. Some states, like California, Florida and North Carolina, have film offices at the local, county and state levels.

And the impact of filming on an area can be staggering. Consider the $11 million "Gods and Generals" pumped into the local economy for everything from car and hotel room rentals to equipment leasing and set construction.

More than a year after filming ceased, Frye says the economic impact continues to be felt. With local premieres days away, local clothiers are gaining business from customers eager to look their best as the finished film debuts at The Maryland Theatre.

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