Jesse James gang strikes again

Folks in the state of Arkansas feel like they’ve been robbed — and, ironically, the culprits come in the guise of a modern-day Frank and Jesse James.

A recent six-week location film shoot of “Frank and Jesse,” a Trimark Pictures negative pickup, has allegedly left Arkansas merchants, contractors and film commissioners with a $ 105,000 unpaid debt.

“The frustration I’ve felt began when it took me 20 days to get anyone from Trimark to return my calls,” said William Buck, director of the Arkansas Motion Picture Office. “And then there was just a lot of finger-pointing.”

Trimark executives, in response, said they were planning on flying two execs to Arkansas on Sunday night to clean up thematter. They stressed that the film is a negative pickup, that they are the film’s distributor, and that Lone Star Prods. was the indie company that did the actual shoot.

The film stars Rob Lowe, Bill Paxton and Randy Travis.

Lone Star could not be reached for comment.

“I’m arranging a flight to Arkansas and I will go down and assess what the situation is and bring some sort of resolution,” said Andrew Hersh, Trimark senior veepee of production. “This thing has just suddenly landed on our laps and we don’t believe it’s in our best interests or anyone’s best interests to go into a community and have these kinds of problems.”

Buck and others from Arkansas said they have numerous unpaid debts and instances of property destruction that neither Lone Star nor Trimark seems willing to pay.

“We’ve been told the film is $ 1 million over budget, that they had to make up their losses somehow,” Buck said.

Chamber officials from the city of Van Buren say they sustained some $ 30,000 in damages to local buildings and unpaid bills, as more than 70 merchants on Main Street agreed to have 40 truckloads of dirt brought in to cover the cement sidewalks for four days. (Ironically, the dirt contractor said he was never paid.)

The scene was for the James brothers’ bloodiest battle, with seven blocks closed to the public and dressed with period signs and furniture, supplied by local merchants.

“The merchants waived any individual compensation for the four days of shooting and, in return, the company agreed to donate money to two community projects,” said Maryl Koeth, tourism coordinator of the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce. “When they were done shooting, they told us they would divide $ 8,000 between the two projects.”

The projects included a memorial park fund in the downtown area and the Arkansas Children’s Theater. Yet now Van Buren officials say they are being told that there was no promise of any such donations.

“We’ve always had good experiences with film production before,” Koeth said. “But this experience has made everyone leery of any future production companies coming in. I certainly don’t think we’ll be able to take any promises on blind faith anymore.”

Among the other films that have shot in Arkansas were “Biloxi Blues” (which shot on Van Buren’s Main Street) and the TV miniseries “The Blue and the Gray.”

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