Boosting state's role in movies Business leaders share breakfast, ideas on attracting films

December 03, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Early yesterday, about 130 Baltimore-area business executives gathered in a hotel conference room to discuss "Homicide: Life on the Street," the new Tim Allen movie, "For Richer or Poorer," and Oprah Winfrey's latest film endeavor, "Beloved."

They weren't actually fans; at the breakfast meeting organized by the BWI Business Partnership at Linthicum's Doubletree Guest Suites Hotel, story lines and stars were of secondary interest.

The main issue was money: how to bring more film crews -- and the dollars they spend -- into Maryland.

"The motion picture industry brings a lot of money into the state," said Neil M. Shpritz, executive director of the partnership. "It also raises the visibility of the state to the whole world. It brings in tourists. Many people who don't know anything about Baltimore know that 'Homicide' is filmed here."

Speaking at the meeting were Michael Styer, director of the Maryland Film Office, which markets the state as set locales to the film industry; James Finnerty, co-executive producer of "Homicide"; and Jed Dietz, president of the Producers Club of Maryland, a coalition of business executives that attracts film projects to the area.

Styer said film crews in Maryland typically spend about $500,000 to $2 million a week on such things as accommodations, supplies and materials for sets and costumes and salaries paid to locals who work on the film.

"This is all newfound money spent from outside," he said. "This is like moving a company of a couple of hundred people here for eight to 12 weeks."

In 1995, he said film crews spent $41 million in Maryland. This year, Styer estimated the figure would be almost $90 million.

Styer added that part of his marketing strategy has been to sell Baltimore as an ideal locale for movies that aren't set here. Neighborhoods can be modified to depict other locations. For example, Westminster is portrayed as Lancaster, Pa., in Tim Allen's new movie -- which Styer said is one of six feature films shot around Baltimore since April.

"There are not many films set in and around Baltimore," Styer explained. "So we try to sell ourselves as America in miniature."

Finnerty of "Homicide" said Maryland is known as "film-friendly" and reiterated that businesses should encourage film and television producers to use this area for locales.

The money that crews spend "funnels down to the hardware stores to the lumber yards to the restaurants," Finnerty said.

Dietz said Maryland businesses are only "scratching the surface" in attracting the film industry's dollars.

Several in the audience were surprised by the topic, which was not the usual fare at partnership breakfasts. Laurence D. Packer, district sales manager at M/A-COM, which sells parts for electrical equipment, said he'd never thought about how the film industry would affect his business.

"But I guess if the city grows and more businesses come here, that would affect me," he said.

"And maybe they would bank with me," added Karen McMaster, a Citizens National Bank branch officer.

"I don't think a lot of people know how big the film industry is and how it's growing and can help businesses," Styer said.

But Packer admitted his interest in the speakers at yesterday's breakfast wasn't entirely business-oriented.

"From a personal standpoint," he said sheepishly, "if I could get picked to play a character on 'Homicide,' that would be great."

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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