Navy rejects Disney script

Annapolis to show fights, fraternization, hazing

Pa. tax incentives also an issue

Ehrlich vows to take steps to keep state competitive


August 06, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Navy officials said yesterday that they had not given the green light to a script for a Disney movie set at the Naval Academy because of scenes portraying a midshipman involved in acts of hazing, fraternization and violence - all forbidden by the academy's code of conduct.

Concerns about the script for Annapolis - which required Defense Department approval to be filmed on campus - surfaced after the Walt Disney Corp. apparently canceled plans to film in Annapolis and Baltimore and shoot in Philadelphia.

State and local officials expressed concern this week that the academy's reaction had hurt a chance to showcase Maryland and its capital. But they also believe Disney's decision was related to recent changes in Pennsylvania law that offer tax incentives to attract moviemakers.

Chagrined over losing a motion picture production blocks from his mansion to a neighboring state, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pledged yesterday to take steps to keep Maryland competitive in the film industry. A Maryland official said Pennsylvania's incentives would save Disney about $2 million.

"The governor and the administration will take a very close look at how to prevent this from happening again," said Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman. "I would not rule out a legislative solution in the next session."

Navy officials acknowledged they had concerns about the script, which centered, in part, on a plebe's romance with a female upperclassman.

"We gave them detailed notes and made it clear what our problems are," said Cmdr. Bob Anderson, who works in Los Angeles as the Navy's liaison to the entertainment industry.

Disney's decision came as a surprise to government officials, who had expected the movie would be filmed in Maryland, mostly on the scenic Naval Academy campus, for 45 to 50 days this fall.

Instead, Annapolis, starring James Franco, will apparently be filmed with Philadelphia buildings and locations passing for the Naval Academy and the capital, Maryland officials said.

Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, said Ehrlich met with entertainment industry executives in Los Angeles a few months ago.

"What happened here shows the importance of financial incentives," Gerbes said. "Sure, this hurts, but we want to reman competitive. Filmmaking is very important to Maryland."

Kerry McAleer, vice president for publicity for Disney, said the film studio had no comment.

Although Gerbes said he had been told by one of the movie's principals this week that Disney is opting to film in Philadelphia, Anderson said yesterday that he had not been told by Disney that the script talks were over.

He said Franco, the actor, had attended the Naval Academy graduation in May and observed the year-end ritual of plebes climbing up a greased Herndon Monument. Since the spring, academy officials had given Disney movie crews access to buildings and classes.

To give the movie authenticity, crews have already filmed the military colleges' 1,200 plebes arriving and getting sworn in at Tecumseh Court.

Academy spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons said yesterday that the military college hadhelped Disney in two ways.

"We gave them research assistance and access to our people," he said. "As with anyone doing a story about the academy, we want to help them get it right."

Sun staff writer Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

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