Originally created 02/11/00

New drama based on Marines



An extra dose of drama is coming to Parris Island, S.C., this spring.

As new recruits struggle to become full-fledged Marines, another set of men and women in identical uniforms will be struggling to break into the fall television ratings with an NBC pilot called Semper Fi.

The drama, created by Stephen Spielberg's DreamWorks studio, has been picked up by NBC for 13 episodes, and the first two-hour show will be filmed at the Parris Island Marine Corps Depot in April.

"I see no reason why it won't be a hit," said Maj. T.V. Johnson, a Marine based in Los Angeles to act as a liaison with the entertainment industry. "Maybe it will even be like the military version of ER."

The series will be based on four men and two women who endure basic training and then are stationed together in a Marine unit. Many of the story lines will be "plucked from today's headlines," Maj. Johnson said.

NBC spokesman Curt King of Burbank, Calif., said the story line is still being developed and written by Jim Uhls of Fight Club fame as casting begins in California. Production should start in early April on Parris Island, he said.

"We're really excited because it's by Stephen Spielberg and DreamWorks," he said. "We think it will be a very interesting and exciting project."

Parris Island spokesman Maj. Brian Salas said scouters from DreamWorks visited in early December and January "to get a flavor of Parris Island."

They'll get full cooperation from the Marine Corps, he said, as long as filming doesn't interfere with recruit training. Real recruits might be filmed as they train but won't be mixed with actors or cued for the cameras.

"They can't come in and say we're going to shut down training," Maj. Johnson said. "Our mission is to make Marines, and production companies have to understand we can't interrupt that mission."

Most recruits probably won't even know a pilot is being shot on the island unless a drill instructor tells them or they see a newspaper, he said.

All Marines are trained at Parris Island or in San Diego. Scouters selected the South Carolina location because that's where all female recruits are trained and some of the characters in Semper Fi will be women.

Mr. King said the cast will be a large, multiethnic group of men and women. After leaving Parris Island, some of the other episodes will be probably be shot in Camp Pendleton, Calif., where producers can simulate locales from other countries, he said.

Scouts had also been to Camp Lejeune, N.C., but Maj. Johnson said he doesn't know if that location will be selected for future episodes.

Maj. Johnson, who read the first script and met with Mr. Spielberg and others in DreamWorks, said Marines are cooperating to make sure the show gives an accurate reflection of the Marine experience.

He said he hopes the show will be an inspiration for current Marines and would-be Marines who consider joining up or staying in the Corps.

"The whole Marine Corps is excited about it," he said. "We're behind this 100 percent."

To film at Parris Island and get use of military equipment, producers must get script approval by Marines and make changes if necessary to portray the Corps accurately, Maj. Johnson said.

"That's not to say characters can't do something wrong, but in the end, they have to show the consequences," he said. "From the Marine Corps point of view, we have a script we're happy with. We are poised and ready to go."