HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Director Ron Maxwell — who owes Washington County $263,000 on an overdue loan — said Thursday he's "absolutely" confident he still can make the last movie in a Civil War trilogy.
"As long as I'm walking around and breathing, there's hope," Maxwell said, referring to "The Last Full Measure."
Maxwell made "Gettysburg," which came out in 1993, and "Gods and Generals," which was released in 2003 and filmed largely in the Tri-State area.
In 2002, Washington County gave Maxwell a $300,000 loan to start working on "The Last Full Measure" by 2005 and produce at least half of it in Washington County.
Otherwise, he had to repay the money, plus 4.5 percent annual interest, by 2010.
"It's being paid over a number of years and it continues to be paid, and it will be paid. That's ... all I can tell you," Maxwell said during a brief interview as he left a Maryland International Film Festival VIP reception in Hagerstown on Thursday.
But Maxwell's last payment was $19,107 on June 2, 2008, according to county officials. That leaves his debt at $181,786 on the principal and $263,041 total, including interest.
When The Herald-Mail wrote about Maxwell's loan debt in 2007, County Attorney John M. Martirano said the county was considering a lawsuit to collect the balance.
Assistant County Attorney Andrew F. Wilkinson said in August that a lawsuit was still possible.
For now, however, the county continues to talk to Maxwell and his Washington, D.C., attorney, Richard J. Leighton, Wilkinson said Friday. He said he and Leighton are scheduled to confer again in mid-November.
Leighton couldn't be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Maxwell said he met privately with the Washington County Board of Commissioners within the last six months "and everybody understands that it's gonna be solved."
But none of the four commissioners contacted Friday was satisfied with Maxwell's progress in paying his debt.
"He's not on track, and he owes Washington County taxpayers ...," said Terry Baker, the president of the commissioners. "He hasn't lived up to his obligation."
Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said loans in the film industry are risky. She said the county now needs to focus on getting repaid.
When he met with the commissioners, Maxwell suggested alternatives to repaying the loan, according to Commissioner William B. McKinley. One was a local film festival, which would attract people to Washington County and boost hotel-motel tax revenue.
McKinley said that wasn't reasonable.
"We need the money back," he said.
"I think we're getting to the point where negotiations are ending" and the matter will go to court, Commissioner Jeff Cline said.
Cline questioned the image of Maxwell's red-carpet entrance at The Maryland Theatre on Thursday evening.
"He arrived in a white limo to a town he owed $300,000 to, and he was treated like a hero," Cline said, wondering why Maxwell couldn't have at least made small payments in the last three years.
Commissioner John F. Barr couldn't be reached for comment on Friday.
Maxwell pledges payback
Maxwell was in Washington County on Thursday for the film festival kickoff and on Friday for a director's-cut screening of "Gods and Generals."
He said it took 15 years to make "Gettysburg," the first film in the trilogy, and 10 years to make "Gods and Generals," the second part, which was a "prequel" to "Gettysburg."
Eight years have passed since he started trying to make "The Last Full Measure," so "if we get it done within the next two years, we'll be on schedule ...," he said with a laugh.
"One thing you can put in print: I will never turn my back on this county," Maxwell said.
Jeff Shaara wrote "The Last Full Measure," a book Maxwell has tried to turn into a movie.
Hagerstown attorney D. Bruce Poole, who represents Shaara, said Shaara and Maxwell haven't spoken in years about making a "The Last Full Measure" movie. But Shaara "is confident that under the right circumstances," the movie could be made and would be successful, Poole said.
Maxwell and Shaara each own 50 percent of the movie rights, according to Poole.
The loan agreement called for Maxwell to make quarterly payments to the county. However, records show he made one payment in 2006, four in 2007 and one in 2008.
The loan for "The Last Full Measure" followed an earlier loan Maxwell's film company secured in 1997 to make "Gods and Generals." Washington County and the city of Hagerstown backed $300,000 of the loan, The Herald-Mail reported at the time.
Maxwell's film company repaid that loan.
"Gods and Generals" cost about $56 million to make and had a domestic gross of about $13 million, according to the movie-industry website www.IMDb.com.
A director's cut DVD of nearly six hours, twice the length of the theater version, was more popular.