HBO chooses Springfield, downtown as sets for film

Movie to follow the lives of heart surgery pioneers

November 30, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

HBO has chosen the wards vacated long ago by the Springfield Hospital Center, along with Sykesville's downtown, as filming locations for the cable channel's movie on the lives of two heart surgery pioneers.

The hometown look of Sykesville's Main Street and the frozen-in-time hospital wards and operating rooms, part of the hospital's Warfield complex, made the town an ideal location for Something the Lord Made, a story that takes place in 1940s Baltimore, said Charley Armstrong, location manager for the production.

Filming in the town will take about 10 days and is to begin next week in several Warfield buildings. The set will be closed to the public.

Something the Lord Made is set at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and revolves around the friendship of Dr. Alfred Blalock and his surgical and research assistant, Vivien Thomas. It stars Alan Rickman, most recently in Love Actually, as Blalock and hip-hop artist and actor Mos Def, who appeared in The Italian Job, as Thomas.

The partnership of Blalock and Thomas led to several advances in heart surgery. Blalock set out to find a surgical treatment for "blue baby" syndrome. The condition, caused by a heart defect, killed thousands of infants each year.

Blalock and Dr. Helen Taussig devised the procedure. But it was up to Thomas, a young black man who aspired to go to medical school but lacked the money to get there, to help make it work. The technician practiced the procedure on dogs, and developed his skill with a scalpel. After examining a canine heart that Thomas had repaired, Blalock marveled that the organ looked like "something the Lord made."

Shooting also will take place in Baltimore in and around Hopkins Hospital and should wrap in about 25 days, said Armstrong.

The film is expected to appear on the premium cable channel in late spring, he said.

Sykesville officials said they expect the production to use one of the largest of Warfield's dozen buildings, which were added to the Springfield Hospital for the mentally ill in the 1920s.

One building has a sizable cafeteria and auditorium, but officials would not reveal the exact location for the filming.

Warfield's buildings, which have been vacant for nearly two decades, still closely resemble the operating and patient rooms at Hopkins from 60 years ago. The same architect designed Hopkins and Springfield hospitals, according to town history.

"The similarities in architecture helped us decide," said Armstrong. "This is a real period piece."

The state deeded the former hospital buildings and nearly 100 acres along Route 32 to the town three years ago. The town has established a partnership with the state and Carroll County to develop the property into a business and academic center.

The film company is to pay the town $800 for every day of filming in Sykesville. The filmmaker will contribute minimally to the development effort by removing asbestos and lead paint from at least one building.

"This is a really sweet deal," said Mayor Jonathan Herman. "It will give our [Warfield] project a little publicity, too."

At least two days of filming will take place on Main Street sometime next month. If the town's Christmas lights and decorations do not fit into the story line, the film company will take them down and then rehang them, Armstrong said.

Sykesville, a town of about 4,500 people, seems to be gaining a reputation in film circles, Herman said.

Last year, actor Chris Rock came to town to film scenes from Head of State, a movie in which he starred and directed. A few town residents and Springfield employees had brief roles in Silent Fall, a 1994 movie that starred Richard Dreyfuss and John Lithgow. And filmmaker John Waters shot much of the 1990 movie Cry-Baby on Main Street. Waters said at the time that the town "looks like Anywhere, USA."

"Maybe," said Herman, "Waters set the stage for us."

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