By Charles Winokoor
February 7, 2009
Who’s to say Steven Spielberg won’t make his next movie here?
Although it’s too soon to state with any degree of certitude that it will come to pass, the fact is parts of Taunton and North Dighton are being considered as location sites for a major cinematic production about the Civil War and the 16th president of the United States.
As for it possibly being a Spielberg production, the famed director in the spring of 2008 went on the record that he was seriously considering making a movie based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” Liam Neeson — who had acted in Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” — reportedly was anxious to portray Lincoln. Sally Field, it was also reported, was being offered the role of his wife, Mary Todd.
A little over two weeks ago, a Boston-based, professional film-location scout met up with Dick Shafer, Taunton’s economic development director, and spent the better part of the day looking at potential movie set locations in Greater Taunton. These included Riverfront Park in the Weir Village, the Gertrude M. Boyden Wildlife Refuge off of Cohannet Street and the Three Mile River near the former Dighton Industries complex on Spring Street in North Dighton. It was the latter, Shafer said, that most interested Jeff MacLean, the proprietor of New England Locations — a company whose résumé boasts of having found sites for such movies as Martin Scorsese’s gangster tale “The Departed” and the Disney Pictures drama “A Civil Action.” Shafer said Three Mile River’s natural setting behind the industrial complex — with Taunton on one side of its banks and North Dighton on the other — impressed MacLean as a place where a famous Civil War scene involving Lincoln could be recreated.
According to Shafer, the timeline is connected to the historic burning of Richmond, Va. in 1865 by Confederate troops, as they abandoned what had been the Confederacy’s center of government. Less than two days after the devastating blaze, President Abraham Lincoln landed on the banks of the James River to inspect the smoldering ruins of that once grand, Southern city. Shafer noted that MacLean especially appreciated the extent to which the Three Mile River and its surrounding woods at that juncture remain unadorned. The only sign of modern technology are some power lines, but those, Shafer said MacLean told him, could easily be removed from the finished product by means of digital technology. And by the time shooting starts in the spring, Shafer added, leaves on the trees will have grown back in, further obscuring any sign of contemporary 21st century existence.
MacLean, Shafer said, didn’t make any bones about the fact that the movie in question is to be a Civil War-era saga, and that the director is someone who is quite well known. “A famous director, somebody as big as Scorsese,” Shafer said, referring to the director who in 2008 recreated a Nazi concentration camp in Taunton’s Whittenton Mills industrial complex. That Scorsese movie, initially titled “Ashecliffe,” is scheduled to be released next October under the name “Shutter Island.” Also in 2008, actor Bruce Willis was in the Silver City on the grounds of the state-owned Paul A. Dever School off of Bay Street, shooting scenes for a movie to be called “The Surrogates.”
Shafer said MacLean was referred to the Taunton region by the Massachusetts Film Office — and Taunton, in particular — because of Scorsese having worked here. He also said it’s no surprise that more big budget movies are being filmed in the Bay State. In 2008 Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a 25 percent film credit; since then “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Ashecliffe”, among others, have been made in Massachusetts. Mayor Charles Crowley has turned into something of an advocate for more movies being filmed here in Taunton. Besides the usual publicity, he points out that small businesses on the periphery of those movie sets benefit financially, when crew members spend money on food and other products and services. “We welcome it,” Crowley said about the possibility of scenes in a movie about Abraham Lincoln could be shot in or near Taunton. But he was quick to caution that the project is still “in its infancy stages.” Crowley, a local historian of note, claims that he is a distant relative of Lincoln, whose bicentennial birthday will be celebrated on Thursday, Feb. 12.
Before he was elected president, Lincoln visited Taunton as a congressman in September of 1848, while campaigning for presidential candidate General Zachary Taylor. He spoke at two locations in the city, most notably in Mechanics Hall at the intersection of Danforth and Hopewell streets in Whittenton, across from where the Reed & Barton company stands, Crowley said. Shafer said that MacLean also paid a brief visit to the city’s Old Colony Historical Society, where he inspected documents and memorabilia related to Lincoln and his visit to the city. Peter Merrigan, facility manager of 620 Spring Street Industrial Complex — the North Dighton propoerty that once contained Mount Hope Finishing and, following that, Raytheon Co. — said that he met with MacLean and gave him a tour of the site. Roughly half of the sprawling complex, including a section directly facing out onto the river, is now being demolished, he said, as a means of cutting energy costs. Merrigan said he assumes “there’d be no problem” if a movie company wanted to negotiate an agreement with the owners (known as Landman Omnibus 13 LLC), so that they could rent the land in order to film there. “We’re in the business of making deals,” Merrigan said