Lights, camera ... fix a problem

July 10, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

Producer Craig Haffner, partner with Greystone Television & Films of Los Angeles, likens the process of creating a movie to that of assembling an intricately engineered machine.

Between the screenplay, the site location, the unions, the cast, the crew, the props and the accommodations, he said, there is an awful lot that can go wrong.

"The reality is, it echoes all of the things you need to handle when you're setting up a manufacturing operation," Haffner said. "No matter what the size of the production, there are 10,000 moving parts that are always going in opposite directions."


For six months, Haffner and co-producer Seth Isler worked to put those pieces into play for a re-enactment of the hour-long battle of Pickett's Charge - itself just one day of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg.

The 20-minute production is to be shown exclusively for tourists on a 40-foot-by-60-foot movie screen at the Gateway Gettysburg complex being built in Gettysburg, Pa.

Just weeks before the cameras were set to roll, one of those 10,000 parts broke loose.

"It's a producer's nightmare to have to move a production from one state to the other," Isler said. "There was a lot of behind-the-scenes circling of the wagons, and Russ was leading the charge."

After their plans to shoot in Gettysburg fell through, Isler and Haffner turned to Russell E. Richards, CEO of Historical Entertainment LLC, and within two weeks Richards was able to re-stage the film at Austin Flook's Keedysville farm.

He did so with the help of representatives from the Maryland Film Office, Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Washington County Commissioners.

"I will make it happen."

"I said: 'Look, you can come to Washington County and I will make it happen'," Richards said. "It was a big undertaking, and we did it all within two weeks."

A lot of work for minimal gain?

Not so, said Richards. While Greystone only filmed in Keedysville from June 1 to June 19, he said the production brought about $2 million in revenue to Washington County and the State of Maryland, setting aside the incalculable revenue generated for local merchants.

"Everything is bought in Washington County," Richards said. "That's helping our vendors, without building a new infrastructure, a new sewer plant, new schools."

According to Catherine Batavick, deputy director of the Maryland Department of Economic Development's film office, productions such as "Fields of Freedom" combine to generate about $74 million annually statewide.

"It's a really good revenue source because it doesn't draw on your natural resources, because you don't have to build new schools or build new roads," Batavick said. "Filmmakers typically don't stay home when they're filming, they go out to eat, they go out to shop there's a lot of things we can't even account for."

Last year, Batavick said, the state collected $75 million from productions filmed in Maryland, down from $126 million in 2003, an amount attributed in large part to the fact that "Ladder 49" was being filmed in Baltimore. In 2002, the state recorded about $74 million in income from the film industry, she said.

Washington County has played host to numerous productions over the years, although few have been as prominent as the 2003 Civil War film "Gods and Generals."

Richards formed his re-enactors firm after assisting the producers with that production, and the former electrician now handles up to four films at any one time at locations across the country.

Richards' Cascade-based firm provides re-enactors for a variety of films, and because of his experience he is able to help out-of-state production companies such as Greystone synchronize the moving parts that go into making a film.

Last year he worked on six productions staged in Washington County, including the World War II film "The Pain Within," and a piece on the Battle of Monocacy.

"It's a really good revenue source."

Thomas B. Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that in addition to the obvious, productions filmed locally help foster a positive image for Washington County, which helps in other areas, including tourism.

"It brings not only economic impact but it gives us name recognition, image enhancement and a wonderful opportunity," Riford said.

Isler said that due to the help of Richards and others, his cast and crew were able to do for Union and Confederate soldiers at Pickett's Charge what Steven Spielberg was able to do for the Battle of Normandy in "Saving Private Ryan."

"This was more of a theatrical presentation, a representation of the battle authenticity was a mandate," Isler said. "We wanted to show, from the common soldier what that felt like walking across that field."

Isler said Greystone plans to film two more pieces for Gettysburg, one on George Washington and a second featuring another component of the Civil War. He said that while the script dictates the types of locations he can consider, he plans to push for Washington County with those if possible and for others in the future if not.

"We would love to come back here," he said.

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