Maryland Made: State’s film industry is robust

By Chris Miller,

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland is well known for its crab cakes and the Chesapeake Bay. But that’s not all. Since 2000, 78 films and five television shows have been shot in Maryland, according to the Maryland State Archives.

When people think of movie and television locations, California’s pristine oceans and rolling Hollywood hills, or the sprawling urban jungle of New York come to mind. Though it’s smaller, Maryland has more than held its own.

Over the last few years, the award-winning Netflix series “House of Cards,” starring Kevin Spacey, and HBO’s “Veep,” starring Julia-Louis Dreyfus — who attended high school in Bethesda — have filmed in the state.

The sixth season of “House of Cards” was about to shoot in Maryland earlier this month, but due to multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Spacey, the series is suspended and Netflix announced that Spacey will no longer be involved with the show.

Two of the earliest films that helped put Maryland on the cinematic map were both released in 1979: “The Seduction of Joe Tynan,” starring Meryl Streep and Alan Alda, and “…And Justice for All,” written by Baltimore native Barry Levinson and starring Al Pacino, said Chris Kaltenbach, entertainment reporter for The Baltimore Sun.

It helped that these films had actors with genuine name recognition.

“Meryl Streep within a year or two would be an Oscar winner,” said Kaltenbach.

Since then, Maryland has consistently produced well-received movies and television shows. Some of the most recognizable films include “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985), “Patriot Games” (1992) with Harrison Ford, “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, “Runaway Bride” (1999) with Julia Roberts, “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), and “Wedding Crashers,” (2005) with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.

One of the biggest reasons that productions flock to film in Maryland is because of its close proximity to Washington, D.C., Kaltenbach said.

Washington can be restrictive about what can be filmed due to security reasons, he said, so Maryland is close enough that “if you just want to take a day and do a couple shots…you’re close enough (to D.C.) to be able to do that at a fairly low cost.”

Many shows, such as “House of Cards” and “Veep,” have filmed in Baltimore as a stand-in for Washington. “House of Cards” even transformed the Maryland House of Delegates chamber to stand in for the United States Senate, according to a 2014 Towson University report on the economic impacts of the Maryland film industry.

Maryland is also an ideal location for “almost any sort of scenario you’d want to shoot,” said Kaltenbach.

Maryland has a variety of locations — mountains, the ocean, the Chesapeake Bay and big cities and small towns — that make it an attractive state for filming, he said.

The state is “America in miniature,” said Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office. “So a filmmaker could get the inner city of ‘The Wire’ and in 20 minutes later be in the bucolic, rolling hills of ‘Runaway Bride,’” he said.

The Baltimore area also has a standing, skilled workforce for film productions to employ, said Kaltenbach. “Caterers, electricians, casting agents — all the people you would need to shoot a film or shoot a television show, we have them here in the area,” he said.

“That’s important,” said Gerbes, “because if a project can come to Maryland and hire the crew locally, that saves the production and the producer hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.”

The first four seasons of both “House of Cards” and “Veep” have each hired more than 1,000 Maryland technicians and actors, according to a December 2016 report from the Maryland Department of Commerce.

Maryland also has local businesses that can accommodate the often 24-hour work schedules of many productions that shoot in the state, Gerbes said.

The productions pay for goods and services from these vendors, boosting the local economies of the areas where the filming takes place.

The fourth seasons of “House of Cards” (2016-2017) and “Veep” (2015-2016) worked with 1,963 and 1,066 vendors respectively from across Maryland, according to the Department of Commerce report.

The most common vendors for “House of Cards” were McDonald’s, BP, 7-Eleven and Exxon, while the most common vendors for “Veep” were Royal Farms, Wal-Mart, Exxon and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Maryland tax incentives

Maryland has helped lure film and television productions to the state through various tax incentives.

Maryland’s original incentive was a rebate program created in 2005. The program offered movie and television programs that shot in the state a rebate of 50 percent of the first $25,000 of each employee’s wages, up to a maximum of $2 million, said Gerbes.

This rebate existed until 2011, when the Maryland Film Production Employment Act was passed. It replaced the rebate program with a refundable tax credit for direct costs of film production in the state, said Gerbes.

Under the newer law, movie production may receive a credit of up to 25 percent of direct costs, while a television series may receive up to 27 percent, according to the Maryland Film Office.

A television series can receive a higher tax credit than a film production because it shoots around 150 days a year–much longer than a film, which typically shoots 25 to 45 days, depending on the budget, said Gerbes.

And local production crews and businesses understand that a television series will likely be back in the area in the near future to film another season.

For a film or television series to qualify for the tax credit, at least half of the project must be shot in Maryland; the total direct costs of production in the state must exceed $500,000, and the film must be intended for national distribution, according to the Maryland Film Office.

Since 2012, a total of 12 film and television productions have been shot in the state. These productions have generated over $757 million in economic impact for the state, according to the Department of Commerce.

Since that time, about $62.5 million in tax credits have been authorized in the state. Of that, $60 million, or about 95 percent, have been awarded to “House of Cards” and “Veep,” according to a 2015 report by the state’s Department of Legislative Services.

Film-induced tourism

Many fans flock to Maryland to see where their favorite films were shot.

“Film-induced tourism … is certainly something that is a viable economic impact generator,” said Gerbes.

After the success of “Wedding Crashers,” many people called the Inn at Perry Cabin, in St. Michaels, where one of the wedding reception scenes was shot, to try to get married there, said Gerbes.

The small town of Berlin, on the Eastern Shore, was used for “Runaway Bride” in 1998. “They marketed themselves as the location for ‘Runaway Bride,’” said Gerbes. When the film was released, the town had billboards on Route 50 promoting people to take a detour to see where “Runaway Bride” was shot, he said.

The Waugh United Methodist Church, in Glen Arm, was used in one of the climactic moments in “Runaway Bride.” For a long time, the church’s welcome sign, where it lists its service times, said “Come worship at the home of the ‘Runaway Bride,’” said Gerbes.

Every year, fans of “The Blair Witch Project” meet in October for the Blair Witch Experience, where they travel to many of the filming locations throughout Maryland. This year’s event was held Oct. 20-22.

Local areas also benefit when stars talk about them.

After filming “Better Living Through Chemistry” in 2012, Jane Fonda posted on her blog about how she found Annapolis “utterly charming,” and in 2013, Julia Louis-Dreyfus thanked the show’s “wonderful crew in Baltimore” when she won an Emmy for “Veep,” according to Towson University’s 2014 report.

Notable Marylanders

Maryland has also produced its share of notable filmmakers, producers and writers.

John Waters grew up in Baltimore and has directed 18 films — all of them shot in the city. Arguably his most famous film, “Hairspray” (1988), was later adapted into a Broadway musical and won eight Tony Awards.

Barry Levinson was also born in Baltimore and directed numerous notable films including “Good Morning Vietnam” (1987) and “Rain Man” (1988), which won the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture.

Four of Levinson’s films were shot in Baltimore: “Diner (1982), “Tin Men” (1987), “Avalon” (1990) and “Liberty Heights” (1999).

Both directors have had an outsize impact on the film industry in the state.

“You can thank, I think, Waters and Levinson for really establishing the film industry here in Maryland,” said Kaltenbach.

He said many of their films that were shot in Baltimore were about growing up in the area.

“They kind of planted the seed and in fact most … of the people that work in film in this area (Baltimore) trace their beginnings back to either John Waters or Barry Levinson,” said Kaltenbach.

University of Maryland alumnus David Simon created the HBO crime drama “The Wire” (2002-2008) based on his experiences as a crime reporter at The Baltimore Sun. Television critics lauded the series, with many naming it one of the best television shows of all time. Rolling Stone in 2016 named it the second-greatest television show, behind only “The Sopranos.”

The NBC television series “Homicide: Life on the Street” aired from 1993 to 1999 and was based on one of Simon’s books, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets,” about the Baltimore Police Department Homicide Unit.

Like Simon, Eduardo Sanchez is a native Marylander who made a name for himself as a director and filmed in the state. Sanchez grew up in the Takoma Park area and directed the horror classic “The Blair Witch Project” (1999). The movie was shot around the state, including Seneca Creek State Park, near Gaithersburg, and the small town of Burkittsville.

Maryland also is home to young directors such as Baltimore native Matt Porterfield, whose most recent film, “Sollers Point,” premiered in September at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain. It’s Porterfield’s fifth film and stars actor Jim Belushi.

Though Jed Dietz is not a film director or producer, he loves Maryland films—so much that he helped create the Maryland Film Festival.

The festival is an annual five-day event each May in downtown Baltimore. It is a gathering of the Maryland film community to watch films that have just come into the marketplace, said Dietz.

The filmmakers are present for the showing of each film. “So you get to see the films plus interact with the filmmakers,” he said.

During this year’s festival, more than 40 films, many of them rare and international, were shown, according to the Maryland Film Festival’s website.

John Waters was at this year’s festival and presented the film “Roar” (1981) to the audience. Directed by Noel Marshall and starring Tippi Hedren, the movie is similar to “Jaws” — except with vicious lions and tigers. Billed as “the most dangerous movie ever made” on its film poster, at least 70 members of the crew were attacked by the animals during the shooting of the film, according to the festival’s website. Though it was released in Australia and some European countries in 1981, the film was first released in the U.S. in 2015.

About 10,000 people typically buy tickets for the festival each year, said Dietz.

Dietz is also vice-chair of the Maryland Film Industry Coalition, “an organization solely devoted to advocating for public policy that encourages more film and television production in the state as an economic engine,” he said.

One benefit that cannot be measured — the pride that people have when film crews come to their communities to shoot.

While many associate the film industry with celebrities, the film industry is really about “the (local) people and the businesses,” said Gerbes.

“It makes people feel a little better about themselves and their towns,” said Kaltenbach.


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