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Archive for Wednesday, July 7, 1993

VERSATILITY OF CITY ATTRACTS FILMMAKER

July 7, 1993

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When filmmaker Ron Gilbert surveyed the cold and damp block at 11th and Massachusetts streets, he instead saw the palm trees and searing sun of two warmer climes.

``This is Alabama,'' the grizzled Gilbert said Tuesday, lifting a wrinkled finger toward the Douglas County Courthouse.

``This is Hawaii,'' he said, pointing to the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, the latest location of Gilbert's $5 million, made-for-TV movie,``Final Justice.''

Gilbert and his production company, Kansas Filmworks, shot the film's climactic scene Tuesday and today in District Judge James Paddock's courtroom.

In the movie, the scene takes place in Hawaii. Outside the building, chilled movie extras dressed in shorts and fruity Hawaiian shirts huddled by a coffee pot.

A small army of production crew members swarmed in Paddock's courtroom like ants in a spilled pina colada glass, checking light readings, moving cameras and buffing makeup.

The movie stars Martin Sheen and Patty Duke. Due to its star power and ripped-from-the-headlines plot, Gilbert expects the NBC network to air the flick during November ratings sweeps.

``It's a docudrama. There is no message,'' said Gilbert, executive producer. ``It's a base story of a family and a stupid murder.''

The 4-hour miniseries recounts the true story of a woman -- ``white trash, really,'' Gilbert says -- who marries a Marine based in Hawaii and gives birth to a daughter.

The wife soon seduces another Marine and convinces him to kill her husband. The movie's last two hours follow the fight for custody of the daughter and conviction of the wife.

Duke and Sheen play the murder victim's mother and father, who live in Alabama. Duke was in Lawrence for the filming late Tuesday.

Despite Tuesday's dismal weather, creating the illusion of a Hawaiian courtroom was simple, Gilbert said.

``You add a Hawaiian state flag. You get a pineapple plant, if necessary,'' he said. ``You try to have extras that look like they are from the island, or at least who are very tan.''

Art imitated life for Judy Wright, an extra who played a member of the movie's jury. Wright served as foreman for the jury that last week convicted a former Lawrence man of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend.

``It was just a bizarre happenstance,'' Wright said of being asked to play a jury member.

Her husband, Jack Wright, is a partner in Wright/Laird Casting, the firm finding area actors for supporting roles and bit parts.

``The thing that is different from the trial last week is that the people on the stand are not as nervous,'' she said.

``And the testimony we heard today we heard over and over again, with cameras coming from 10 different angles,'' she said.

The filmmakers have been shooting outside Lawrence and in Topeka for the last two weeks. Future scenes are planned for the Douglas County Commission meeting room in the courthouse, which would double for an Alabama courtroom. Definite dates haven't been set.

Kansas Filmworks shot three films in Lawrence last year: ``Dead Before Dawn,'' starring Cheryl Ladd, ``Why Have They Taken Our Children?'' starring Karl Malden, and ``I Can Make You Love Me: The Stalking of Laura Black,'' starring Brooke Shields.

Gilbert said the Lawrence area gives him a variety of looks to use in movies.

``I know Lawrence now, so I can put it into perspective. When I read a script, I know what locations I can use,'' he said.

``We have good relationships here. People here really bend over backwards for us,'' he said. ``The one thing that doesn't bend over backwards is the weather.''

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