Helmer Bay’s epic to rock Pearl Harbor

Wallace scripting for Touchstone

HONOLULU, Hawaii — Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay will begin filming an epic big-budget drama set around the Pearl Harbor bombing here early next year.

Bay, who directed the 1998 blockbuster “Armageddon” and “The Rock,” and Bruckheimer, who produced the films, head the production team for the $100 million-plus “character-driven love story” tentatively titled “Tennessee” under Disney’s Touchstone moniker (Daily Variety, June 25). Randall Wallace, who won a screenwriting Oscar for “Braveheart,” is the scribe.

The picture, which looks to be the second most-expensive ever produced in Hawaii (after “Waterworld”), will “spend plenty on spectacular special effects, including a re-creation of the bombing,” Bay said.

“You will see what happened at Pearl Harbor like you have never seen it in any other movie,” Bay promised. “Our goal is to stage the event with the utmost realism.”

Hackman, Paltrow sought

No stars have been signed, but Bay said he’s after Oscar winners Gene Hackman to play President Franklin Roosevelt and Gwyneth Paltrow for the romantic lead of a Navy nurse.

The story centers on two brothers caught up in the events that drew the United States into World War II. One of the siblings enlists with the U.S. Air Force, and the other flies for the RAF. Both brothers get involved with the same woman. The story begins several months before the Pearl Harbor bombing.

“Tennessee” is the film’s temporary title and has been a code name for the production for several months, Bay said. The film may be called “Pearl Harbor,” he said.

The code name was used to keep the project secret, Bay said. (Writer Wallace is from Tennessee.)

Avoiding copycats

“We didn’t want the same thing to happen with this film that happened to us with ‘Armageddon,’ ” said Bay. When word got out about “Armageddon,” another studio rushed a similar themed film, “Deep Impact,” into production.

“I want this to be the movie about Pearl Harbor by which all other such films are measured,” he said. ” ‘Tora Tora Tora’ was more of a documentary. And all of these other (Pearl Harbor) films glorified war; there were no characters to latch onto.”

This summer, Bay scouted Oahu for locations in a helicopter with his production designer and visual effect supervisor. Since June, Bay and Wallace have interviewed veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack, and the production’s special effects staff started its research.

World tour

Bay expects the film to require 130 shooting days — the same as “Armageddon” — including time in England, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Baja, Mexico, at the “tank” set used for the film “Titanic.” The Baja set is ideal for some of the film’s planned large special effects, specifically the sinking of the USS Oklahoma.

Bay plans to use many live explosions rather than just computer-generated ones, he said. He also plans to “take real ships and twist them up through the air.”

Most of the Hawaii filming will be done at Oahu military bases, including Hickham, Wheeler, Schofield and Pearl Harbor. The production team has met with military officials on the mainland and expect approval, as the film depicts “such an American historical event.”

The production company has not selected a production base, but Bay said he really liked Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. The Hawaii Film Studio is currently being used by two production companies, one of which produces the television series “Baywatch Hawaii.”