Byron to head city film unit in arts, promotions office

Former tourism official to recruit movie projects

April 14, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Hannah Byron, who previously led the state's tourism and film office, has been named to head a new film division within the city's promotion office that is designed to aggressively sell Baltimore within the film industry.

Byron, 47, will be director of the three-member division of film, video and television within the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, a new division recently created by Mayor Martin O'Malley to promote Baltimore's creative economy.

"I hope to make filming in Baltimore as easy as possible," Byron said yesterday. "We already have an incredible reputation. I think that will only grow. Some of those markets we haven't targeted are really ripe."

Her job will be to work with the state to promote Baltimore as an exceptional film, video and television production location; to provide advance, logistical and site coordination for production staffs; and to serve as an advocate and liaison to the community and the industry.

Amid fierce competition for movie business and increasing incidences of "runaway productions" - the trend for companies to go outside the United States, where production costs are lower - Maryland has continued to expand its film industry.

The movie industry generated $126 million in revenue in Maryland during the 2003 fiscal year. About 90 percent of that money was spent directly in Baltimore, state officials said.

"A lot of cities can't boast that," Byron said. "I want to be sure we build on those successes. I want to look at the permitting and production agreement process to see if there's room for streamlining."

The two employees who will work under Byron have transferred from what used to be the Baltimore Film Commission, where they did the same job they will do under the new structure. A third clerical position was not carried over to the new division. Byron's $68,000 salary, which comes without benefits, is being covered by a supplemental grant from the city.

Ladder 49, a Touchstone Pictures feature film shot entirely in Baltimore, is to be released in October; John Waters' A Dirty Shame is to come out in the fall; the HBO film Something the Lord Made, about heart surgery pioneers, is to air in May; the HBO series The Wire is to begin filming its third season in May; and the state is to find out next month whether a pilot called The Service will be included in ABC's fall season, Byron said.

"There's such great potential to continue to grow this industry," she said.

Byron had been executive director of the Maryland Office of Tourism Development, deputy assistant secretary of the Maryland Division of Tourism, Film & the Arts, and director of corporate communications at Maryland Public Television.

"With Hannah's ability and her networking ability and her contacts, it's going to be a huge plus for filming," said Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office. "It's just going to be another ally in our quest to bring in films."

In an industry fueled by reputation and word of mouth, making sure filmmakers' experiences are positive is the key to landing the next piece of business, he said. Two shows contemplating coming to Baltimore by the end of the summer did their homework by talking to the group that worked on Ladder 49 and loved Baltimore, Gerbes said.

"Baltimore is really developing a diverse and vital film culture," said Michael Evitts, a spokesman for the Downtown Partnership. "This seems to be a logical extension for the city to prioritize and lobby for this kind of art."

Baltimore's solid talent pool in the film industry offers it an advantage that many cities don't have, he said.

"When movies are made here and feature Baltimore, it's a cool thing," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts. "It legitimizes you as a great urban area. It's not just the bucks; it's the lasting value."

The key to the new organization's success will be its aggressive approach, Gilmore said.

"We weren't really working with the state to sell the city," he said. "We were just sort of responding as a production came to town. Now we're going to be helping put deals together. You can't just sit back and assume this business will come to you."

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