Runaway success boosts Md. filming

Hollywood: `Bride,' `Blair Witch' good ads for local movie industry.

August 03, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

American moviegoers spent more than $60 million last weekend watching film of the Maryland countryside.

Of course, it helped that the Old Line State's countryside was decorated with the likes of Julia Roberts, Richard Gere and a 200-year-old witch with an insatiable appetite for student filmmakers.

In a weekend that looks like it may have been Hollywood's most profitable ever, the two highest-grossing films were both shot right here in Maryland. Top moneymaker "Runaway Bride," the long-awaited re-teaming of Roberts, Gere and "Pretty Woman" director Garry Marshall that was shot largely in Berlin on the Eastern Shore, pulled in an estimated $34.5 million. Runner-up "The Blair Witch Project," a ghost story shot in Seneca Creek and Patapsco state parks, brought in an estimated $28.5 million.

For a week at least, the American box office has a decidedly East Coast flavor.

"Isn't that wonderful!" exults Michael Styer, director of the Maryland Film Office. "What an historic moment. ... We're already preparing an ad for the trade newspapers, Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety, which will appear later this week pointing that out."

Wonderful, yes. Historic? Well, even Styer admits the happy confluence of Maryland-based box-office giants isn't about to turn Maryland into Hollywood East. But it certainly won't hurt his office's efforts to lure more filmmakers to the state.

"There's no empirical evidence" that last weekend's success will lure more film projects to the state, Styer says. "But it's like everything else -- people get caught up with these kind of factors, they get excited about it. I think it will get people to think about us, at least for their existing projects."

Two movies are slated to begin filming in Maryland this month: "The Replacements," with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman, and "The Corner," based on David Simon's book about the Baltimore drug trade. Both projects were launched months ago.

Jed Dietz, head of the Producers Club, agrees that good news can only beget more good news. "It's not like anybody's going to say, `We were going to shoot in Morocco, but now we're going to shoot in Maryland because `Blair Witch' is there.' But it's a superstitious business; people tend to go with what works."

Bringing film projects to Maryland pours money into the state directly, via taxes and business directed to local merchants. But box-office successes do more, luring tourists anxious to see the locales depicted in favorite films.

"Generally, the impact that we get most of the time is after the fact, from people who are curious enough that they want to try and see the locations," says George Williams, director of the state Office of Tourism. "The better the quality of the movie, the higher the promotion and publicity that goes into the movie, the better our chances are of getting some positive feedback."

But for anyone who doubts Maryland's box-office clout, consider this: last weekend's bravura performance extends beyond "Bride" and "Blair Witch." Among the stars of "Deep Blue Sea," the country's third-largest moneymaker ($18.6 million) is Baltimore native Thomas Jane.

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