Mutiny on the waterfront

Truth: That is the goal of the documentary now being filmed about events aboard HMS Bounty in 1789.

November 15, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

It wasn't Marlon Brando's Fletcher Christian aboard the HMS Bounty, moored in Fells Point.

But passers-by in East Baltimore yesterday could be forgiven for taking a second look at the replica ship and its crew, who were on location for the filming of a potential television program about the ship and its famed mutiny.

Baltimore is to be the backdrop for five such documentaries on world explorers - the latest bounty for a local film industry that generated $125 million in economic impact last year.

For director Drew Perkins and his partner, Bill Reifenberger, of Rubicon Productions, the project offers a chance to tell a dramatic story with details unknown to many. Once a trailer is complete, they will try and sell the film to public television or to a cable outlet such as the History or Discovery channels. Rubicon's last film, The Tuskeegee Airmen, ran on PBS in February.

"It's more than a documentary; it's more of a docu-drama," said Perkins, wrapped in modern fleece to protect him from yesterday's chill. "We're using vignettes so people get a feel for what it was like."

Theirs is a different story than Hollywood told in the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, in which the mutinying Christian could no longer bear the abusive Captain William Bligh.

For this project, Christian, portrayed by local actor Neal Freeman, is still the mutineer, but he's no hero. Freeman portrays a more historically accurate tale of Christian as the villainous one among the British explorers.

The five productions are expected to cost a total of $2 million to $3 million. Most of that will stay in the region where most of the cast and crew are based. Documentaries and other television work are more common locally than more high-profile feature films shot in Baltimore, such as Sum of All Fears with Ben Affleck and Ladder 49 with John Travolta.

In a scene filmed yesterday, Christian juggled coconuts to the delight of his shipmates when Bligh, played by James Kinstle, admonished him to set a better example for the crew. The relationship of the one-time friends is clearly strained.

The replica Bounty, built for the 1962 film and now owned by a private foundation, is continually on tour and was borrowed for the filming. The tall ship sails out to sea today for another day of filming. (This ship, unlike the 18th century original, has a motor.)

The production is expected to be completed by next summer.

Beyond the Bounty is the brainchild of David P. Scheffenacker Jr., a Baltimore real estate executive who studies history and collects rare books as a hobby. While reading an original 1790s book by the real Captain Bligh a few months ago, he got the idea for the documentary.

He used the Bligh book and others for reference. He consulted historians, supplied funding and hired Rubicon, which brought on Terry McArdle as director of photography and a crew that squeezed below deck yesterday for a handful of scenes.

The 180-foot-long ship with a main mast jutting 115 feet into the air drew a stream of onlookers yesterday along the Broadway Street Pier, near the historic brick and limestone Recreation Pier building made famous by another locally based television series, Homicide: Life on the Street.

Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, which helps scout locations and obtain permits for production crews, said he was pleased that Baltimore could be host for another production and provide work for local crews.

Scheffenacker was just pleased to set the historical record straight: The story is not of Bligh the sadistic tyrant, but of a gifted seaman and leader who was overtaken by his protege, Christian, during a mission to Tahiti. Bligh and his followers were cast adrift in a boat to die in the Pacific but managed to navigate their way to safety.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity to show Bligh for what he truly was -- one of the world's finest seamen whose accomplishments have been often overlooked by his role in the Bounty mutiny," said Scheffenacker, who formed a production company with his father to produce the "voyager series."

"There just isn't enough on television about these kinds of explorers."

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