Nurturing filmmakers' love affair with Baltimore

February 24, 2005|By Bill Gilmore and Hannah Byron

AS PERHAPS NEVER before, Baltimore is on the radar screen of the country's moviemakers.

For the first time, the city made MovieMaker magazine's list of "Top 10 Cities for Movie Makers," the fifth annual countdown of the best cities for independents to live in and make movies.

Editors of the industry publication interviewed writers, directors, location scouts, film office representatives and dozens of cinematographers about their favorite cities in which to live and work. Baltimore ranked ninth, ahead of Orlando, Fla., Atlanta and San Diego, and among heavyweights such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.

Baltimore's advantages, as cited in MovieMaker, include a strong and diverse crew base, one-stop shopping for city permits and fees, free use of city-owned properties, parking passes for location scouts and a state sales tax exemption for qualified projects on cameras, equipment and supplies.

The independent films created here were credited with making Baltimore so special, "with a film community that remains true to the maverick spirit of its cinematic godfather." The editors referred, of course, to Baltimorean John Waters, whose movies were all made in the city.

MovieMaker ranked New York and Philadelphia first- and fourth-best for filmmakers, respectively. Both recently enacted legislation providing rebates and grants to entice producers and directors to film there, and the magazine credited those incentives as a major reason for their top standing.

Pennsylvania's new tax incentive program was attractive enough to lure the movie Annapolis away from Maryland. If this marks a trend, it will lead to a loss of jobs and the closure of many businesses that support film production in Baltimore. That's why it's crucial that the General Assembly adopt similar pending legislation to lure filmmakers to Maryland.

In the past two years, more than $200 million has been generated in direct spending on movies in Maryland. Films such as Ladder 49, with John Travolta, Syriana, with George Clooney, and the forthcoming XXX: State of the Union, with Samuel L. Jackson and Ice Cube, were filmed in Baltimore last year. The proposed rebate program not only would attract more movies, but would also lead to increased investment in our creative communities.

And while local and state government involvement is important, Baltimore's high ranking in MovieMaker is equally a credit to the neighborhoods, restaurants, retailers, businesses and residents who support this vibrant industry.

With a healthy dose of patience and good humor -- despite occasional traffic, road closures or lost parking spaces -- it's the people of Baltimore who keep the independent and commercial filmmakers returning. As MovieMaker noted, director Pepi Singh Khara said it best: "Marylanders are warm, hospitable people who love their moviemakers."

Bill Gilmore is executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, and Hannah Byron is director of its Division of Film, Video and Television.

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