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Montgomery Advertiser

Local News-Aug. 28, 2002

Area sites reel in 'Big Fish'

WETUMPKA -- Hollywood is about to land in Wetumpka. Yes, again.

The production team behind "Big Fish," a Tim Burton-directed drama starring Albert Finney and Ewan MacGregor, plan to shoot in parts of Wetumpka and Montgomery come January.

The film, which is estimated to pump $25 million into the tri-county economy, is the third movie production to stop in Wetumpka in the last decade. An adaptation of Truman Capote's "Grass Harp" took over the town in 1994 and "The Rosa Parks Story," starring Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett, was filmed there last summer.

The difference this time, said Wetumpka Mayor R. Scott Golden, is that a major studio -- Columbia Pictures -- is picking up the tab. Calling Columbia "the first string," Golden said: "We're dealing with a high budget production that dwarfs what the state has seen in the past."

Brian Kurlander, executive director of the Alabama Film Office, has told city officials that the local impact of "Big Fish" will exceed the impact of an average year of film production in the state. He said a package of tax incentives backed by Gov. Siegelman, known as Senate Bill 21 and passed last year, was instrumental in luring the production to Alabama.

Robin Citrin, a location manager with Columbia Pictures, have asked the Wetumpka City Council and the police department for its cooperation over the 84-day shoot. The production team plans to use sections of Wetumpka's historic downtown and will likely need the police to close streets during filming, said Kurlander. While no special permits are needed to film the movie, the team wanted to ask for the community's patience while the filming is in progress, he said.

Barry Lynch, owner of East Bridge Jewelers in downtown Wetumpka, said he welcomes the interruption. "It's nice to have something going on," he said. Plus, he remembers seeing a spike in business last summer when "The Rosa Parks Story" was filming downtown.

But Wetumpka resident Carlton Gray said he has mixed feelings about Hollywood coming to town again. Columbia Pictures has approached Gray about using his 100-year-old Victorian house, overlooking downtown, in the picture. He's not sure he will take them up on the offer.

"I've had movies use my property before, and I wound up on the short end of the stick," said Gray. He said the Rosa Parks production team left town without returning his property to its original condition.

But Alabama film officials assure that with Columbia Pictures on board, there is little danger of residents getting hoodwinked again. "Columbia is really the Mercedes of the film industry," he said.

Based on a novel by Birmingham-based Daniel Wallace, "Big Fish" will keep a production team on the ground in the Montgomery area for about 10 months, said Kurlander. A small advance team of location scouts, set designers and artists is already working in the Capital City, he said.