Third filmmaker feels the pull of Maryland roots

September 15, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

In the spirit of Barry Levinson and John Waters, another native son is focusing his cameras on Baltimore and Maryland this fall.

James G. Robinson, chief executive officer of Morgan Creek Productions, will shoot two major Hollywood feature films here -- beginning this month. One is a comedy sequel, "Major League II," and the other an untitled mystery directed by Oscar-winner Bruce Beresford.

Mr. Robinson, who lives in Baltimore County and commutes weekly to Los Angeles, estimated the two movies will pump millions of dollars into the Maryland economy.

"It's a pleasure to spend it here," Mr. Robinson said yesterday at a news conference with Gov. William Donald Schaefer at the State House.

"It's a pleasure to take it," said Mark Wasserman, secretary of the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development.

The two productions are among more than 30 movie and television projects that have been shot in Maryland since 1987. Altogether, the productions have brought in about $200 million, according to the governor's office.

Morgan Creek is one of the largest independent filmmakers in the country, with movie credits that include "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "Last of the Mohicans," "Young Guns I and II" and "Pacific Heights."

Mr. Robinson's "Major League II" project began filming yesterday in Baltimore. Among its locations will be Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Memorial Stadium. The comedy follows the 1989 original about an oddball Cleveland Indians baseball team that wins the championship.

The sequel finds the team headed toward finishing its season in last place.

The movie stars Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Corbin Bernsen. The original movie grossed $50 million in U.S. theaters.

The as-yet untitled film slated for shooting here is a murder mystery starring Richard Dreyfuss, John Lithgow, Linda Hamilton and J. T. Walsh.

The Eastern Shore will stand in for a New England community where someone brutally murders a middle-aged couple. A therapist with a troubled history arrives to work with the only witness -- the victims' 9-year-old autistic son.

It will be directed by Mr. Beresford, an A-list talent from Australia whose hits include "Breaker Morant," "Tender Mercies" and the 1989 Best Picture Oscar winner, "Driving Miss Daisy." The director plans to shoot primarily in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore. Other locations will include Baltimore, and Carroll, Howard and Baltimore counties.

Mr. Robinson said the movie would add $18 million to $20 million to the state economy during the two-month shooting schedule. It is slated for release in the fall of 1994.

Yesterday's announcement comes nearly a year after Mr. Schaefer flew to California to meet with 20 entertainment leaders, including Mr. Robinson, to drum up movie business for the state. Baltimore native and film director Barry Levinson arranged the meeting.

At the time, Mr. Robinson expressed reservations about shooting in Maryland because of union demands and high costs. Working as an intermediary, Mr. Schaefer helped the two sides resolve their differences, said Scott Harbinson, business representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees.

Mr. Harbinson said his union Local 497, which includes cameramen, makeup artists and electricians, agreed to take a small salary cut to make filming in Maryland financially competitive with other popular shooting locations such as Pittsburgh and Toronto.

Mr. Harbinson said the two movies will bring $3 million in wages and benefits to his union members.

If these two films go well, Mr. Robinson said, he will shoot a third movie here within 12 months. Morgan Creek has five films currently in production.

"We have lots of films we can put in this state," Mr. Robinson said.

Unlike the flamboyant Mr. Waters and affable Mr. Levinson, Mr. Robinson has kept a relatively low profile in his home state. Although a "player," in Hollywood parlance, who was featured in the trade magazine Variety last winter, Mr. Robinson has refused most interview requests in Maryland.

But yesterday he spoke about his unconventional work schedule and his love of Maryland. Three days of his week are spent at home in Jarrettsville. On Tuesday nights, he flies to Los Angeles where he said he routinely works until 1 or 2 a.m. each day. When the weekend comes, he heads back east on an 11:20 p.m. flight either Friday or Saturday night.

He stays in Maryland, he said, because it is a good place to live and to raise a family.

=1 "I think Maryland is a great state," he said.

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