Shared from the 1/13/2018 American Press eEdition

Orleck on the big screen

Film director has eye on ship’s equipment for use in naval movie


Special to the American Press

Leonard Spears, middle, set director for World War II naval drama “Greyhound,” filming in Baton Rouge this spring, examines equipment in the USS Orleck’s pilothouse Wednesday. He’s joined by his assistant, Paul Blanchard, left, and the ship’s superintendent, Stephen Miller.

The set director for a World War II naval drama filming in Baton Rouge this spring toured the USS Orleck on Friday in search of period items to use in the movie.

Scripted by and starring two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, “Greyhound” will film aboard the USS Kidd and in other Baton Rouge locations starting in March, according to an announcement by Louisiana Economic Development.

It’s a production of Film-Nation Entertainment, the independent film company behind Academy Award winning “Arrival” and box office hit “The Big Sick.”

Set Director Leonard Spears said he visited the Orleck, a Gearing-class destroyer commissioned in World War II, both to learn from local experts and search for pieces to take back to Baton Rouge, where he and his team are busy constructing the set.

He said he was particularly interested in the radar, sonar and radio equipment aboard the ship. He said his goal is to “create a reality very similar” to the Orleck but without the renovations. He said it’s also important that the equipment looks new, as it would have at the time.

‘We have to learn as we go, and you have to go to people that know it to find out.’
Leonard Spears
Set director on the challenge of creating the set for the film “Greyhound”

“We’re here to see what we can see and take it from there,” Spears said. “We have to source things from whatever resources we can, whether it’s finding things in state or out of state. Of course, we prefer to find things in state and keep the money in Louisiana and give the credit to Louisiana.”

One of the main reasons for shooting in Louisiana, he said, is the benefit of the state’s film tax incentive program. “Greyhound” is the first significant film project to apply for a new provision that Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law last summer allowing for a 5 percent tax credit for movies shot outside the New Orleans area, according to LED.

The film’s budget is $50.3 million, and an estimated $29.5 million of that will be spent in the state, including $7.6 million in payroll for Louisiana residents.

Hanks will star as the fictional commander of a Fletcher-class destroy, the USS Greyhound, leading a convoy in 1942 across the North Atlantic when the shipping lanes between America and its European allies were endangered by German submarines. He adapted the story from the 1955 novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester.

Spears said his team has been challenged with “a steep learning curve” when creating the set and that they rely on people like the many volunteers at the Orleck to share their knowledge.

“It’s never simple,” Spears said. “We have to learn as we go, and you have to go to people that know it to find out.”

Ron Williams, executive director at the USS Orleck Naval Museum, said the visit was the ship’s first from a major film company — it made its network TV debut in 2015 on a segment of “Flip My Food with Chef Jeff” — but he hopes it’s not the last.

He said the museum is “excited to participate” and hopes the tour sends a message to the film industry that “we are a resource.” He said movies are a great way to keep ships like the Orleck in the public eye.

Williams said the set director and his crew took pictures and will come back for their selections later. He said they’ll pay the Orleck for the use of any equipment they take — a boon to the ship in a financially difficult time while it tries to secure a more permanent home.

Will Precht, spokesman for the Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, said it’s “quite common” for his office to receive inquiries for information about filming in the area.

Precht said the organization’s vision is for the film industry to grow just as local business and tourism continue to grow. He said the area is mainly a target for independent filmmakers and reality TV shows.

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