Disney moves `Annapolis' filming to Philadelphia

Local officials believe switch due to Navy's script concerns, Pennsylvania tax incentives

August 05, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The Walt Disney Co., which had been scheduled to film a movie at the U.S. Naval Academy this fall, backed out this week and will instead shift production of Annapolis to Philadelphia - upsetting state and city officials who were anticipating a boost to the local economy and image.

Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, said he was told by one of the film's principals this week that the company had changed its venue and would instead seek to replicate the Naval Academy and Maryland's capital in Philadelphia.

Officials believe the decision was related to concerns the Navy expressed about the script - which includes a scene in which a plebe punches an officer - as well as significant incentives recently added to Pennsylvania's tax laws to attract moviemakers.

Negotiations grew strained between Disney and the Department of Defense over the script, which had to be vetted by defense officials. With only weeks to go before cameras were set to roll, the script had not received the final approval needed to shoot scenes on the Naval Academy campus.

"Disney did not receive the cooperation they needed at the Naval Academy," said Hannah Byron, director of Baltimore's division of film, video and television. "There were concerns with the script, but this is a movie. Did they ever watch Top Gun or An Officer and a Gentleman?"

Some scenes for the movie were to be filmed in Baltimore. Cmdr. Bob Anderson of the Navy Office of Information West in Los Angeles, the Navy's liaison to the entertainment industry, said yesterday that he had not heard official word from Disney that the shooting venue had changed.

Anderson said that for the Navy, accuracy is paramount when movie scripts are reviewed. "We look for an authentic portrayal of persons, places and events. Film is a powerful medium, and we also look at whether it will help us with recruitment," he said.

Pearl Harbor was considered a successful collaboration between Disney and the Navy, he said. The nearest the military college has come to the big screen in recent decades was a chase scene in Patriot Games filmed outside academy gates in 1991.

The Naval Academy had been in discussions with Disney since March on ways to authentically portray the institution's culture, uniforms and scenery, such as its signature chapel. It has granted the moviemakers access to the 4,000-midshipmen campus to observe the nation's chief training ground for Navy and Marine Corps officers.

"We're surprised by the news and disappointed that a movie about the Naval Academy would be filmed somewhere else," Navy Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, a Naval Academy spokesman, said yesterday.

Disney publicists did not respond to requests for comment.

The movie project, starring Spider-Man-series actor James Franco as a struggling midshipman and boxer, was set to shoot at several Maryland sites - mostly on the Naval Academy campus on the Annapolis waterfront - for 45 to 50 days this fall.

Yesterday, Annapolis, Baltimore and state officials described Disney's sudden change of plan as an economic blow and a cut to the city's pride.

"It was bad enough to lose the Continental Congress to Philadelphia," Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said.

Dennis M. Castleman, an assistant secretary for tourism, film and the arts for the state, said, "The fact that Annapolis is a crown jewel gives it an extra sting. We felt this was a home run for the state.

"When a movie comes to town, it's like a small company setting up shop. There are thousands of hotel nights, hundreds of actors who work as extras and film technicians who get hired," Castleman said. "We plan to have discussions with [entertainment] industry folks to make sure this type of thing doesn't happen again."

Maryland's economy generated a record $35 million from movies shot in the state last fiscal year, he said, noting that a Disney movie starring John Travolta, Ladder 49, was shot in Baltimore and will open nationwide this fall.

Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell signed into law a tax-incentive program to make Philadelphia a more attractive destination for moviemakers.

Castleman said the new program would save the studio at least $2 million.

"Money talks in show business," said Gerbes of the Maryland Film Office.

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