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'Forrest Gump' remains popular after 2 decades

By Mark Hughes Cobb

The Tuscaloosa News

Published: Saturday, July 12 2014 10:20 a.m. MDT

In fact, the filmed Forrest Gump never set foot on the UA campus, or even in Alabama. The film was shot largely in the Carolinas and Georgia, with locations throughout the country for running and other scenes, and in Los Angeles.

"I remember the university didn't cooperate," Gaddy said. Many viewers were fooled by the effects that made it appear Hanks was at the "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door (Foster Auditorium)" in 1963 or played in Bryant-Denny (Stadium). UA denied filmmakers the right to use the school's name, logos or colors, though by dressing the unnamed coach in a houndstooth hat, the implication was made clear.

Historical inaccuracies from early scripts were to blame, at least in part, for UA's reluctance. One example: Gump, along with other students, was to be seen waving placards near Foster's doors, but Groom, who was at UA then, noted heavy law enforcement presence assured "You couldn't get within two miles of that place." Other references to UA and the state were not only inaccurate, but highly unflattering, he said.

"This wasn't Paramount. This wasn't Wendy Finerman's (the producer) company. ... But there was this attitude on both the West Coast, and up North that they can say practically anything about the South, and people believe it. There were just things that were over the top, way over the top," Groom said.

His concerns were brushed off, though he told the filmmakers:

"If I send this script off to (UA administrators), they're going to be distressed."

"I told them the University of Alabama is bigger than (Hollywood)," Groom said.

South Carolina won much of primary filming based on locations, including a rice field that doubled as Vietnam. Other Southern states, including the Carolinas, Louisiana and Georgia, got the jump on Alabama in offering filmmakers tax incentives as far back as the early '90s and thus have years of experienced crew to draw from. The Alabama Legislature passed its incentive bill in 2009.

"Alabama has welcomed filmmaking with open arms. We have not had any resistance at all. It's been embraced," said Kathy Faulk, manager of the Alabama Film Office.

But even if "Gump" — or a sequel — were to be shot today, Alabama would still be out of the running, because there's a $15 million cap on incentives for movies, rising to $20 million next year.

Alabama just isn't poised to land big-budget films, but can handle things like TV production, Oprah Winfrey's in-production film "Selma," John Sayles' 2007 "Honeydripper" or other independent films.

"I do think we need to increase our incentives, what we are able to give back, and the project cap," Faulk said. "To really sustain this as a viable industry, we need more.

"There are a lot of $10 million productions, then they jump to like $30 to $40 million. There are not a lot of $20 million films. I'd like to see us with a $40 or $50 million cap.

"We're not trying to compete with Georgia and Louisiana, where filmmaking is huge, but just get some of that. We want enough of a presence to employ people who want to live here and work in the industry."

Groom advocates for a stronger state-based film infrastructure, but has no dog in the hunt for a "Gump" sequel.

"What I tried to do in the sequel was have it be a lot about little Forrest, the son, and let Tom (Hanks) be the grown-up. I write books, and I think I'm pretty good at it. And (Hollywood) makes movies pretty good, too. If they make it, great; if not, I go to the bank either way.

"This thing is iconic. It's like making a sequel to 'Gone With the Wind.' The critics are going to be waiting for you. Sometimes things are better left alone. But if they do, I'll make a hell of a lot of money," he said, laughing.

Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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