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To get rewards, risks required

January 13, 2006

In November 2002, the Washington County Commissioners voted 4-1 to offer director Ron Maxwell a $300,000 loan if he would film his third Civil War movie here.

The vote, with Commissioner William Wivell opposed, was taken just before the opening of Maxwell's "Gods and Generals," which did not do well at the box office.

Commissioners President Greg Snook said then that production had generated $10 million for the county's economy and that the next film would be even more lucrative.

In December 2004, Maxwell sent an e-mail saying the script was not finished and that production probably wouldn't begin until 2006, even though the terms of the loan required a start by December 2005.

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Like Santa Claus, December has come and gone. And now the commissioners want the cash back.

Under the terms of the loan, if production has not begun, the loan must be repaid with interest over five years.

Based on contact with Jeff Shaara, whose book "The Last Full Measure" would be the basis for any new film, there are no current plans to produce one.

But just because this venture apparently hasn't worked out doesn't mean that the county shouldn't look for additional opportunities to bring film companies here.

Tom Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said this week that local filming last year for the movie, "Fields of Freedom," had a $2 million impact on the local economy.

Just the hotel bills for those involved topped $200,000, Riford said.

Local filming allows landowners, including farmers, to get paid for use of their property without any serious damage to it. Like tourists, filmmakers come here, spend money, but don't require schools or other municipal services.

Yes, ask Maxwell for the money back, but remember that just because his deal didn't work doesn't mean that bringing Hollywood here will always be a bad idea.

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