Stoplights, camera, action!

Filming for Bruce Willis movie ties up downtown traffic but gives passers-by reason to gawk

September 28, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN REPORTER

There he was yesterday, almighty Bruce Willis himself, standing atop a car at Calvert and Fayette streets, stripping off his brown leather jacket seconds after a dump truck rammed into a bus with helicopters whirling overhead.

But all around the theatrical explosions and screeching of the Live Free or Die Hard filming outside the city's courthouses yesterday was real screeching, honking and even some screaming as gridlock seized Baltimore's streets.

Police cars and ambulances struggled to get by (There was even a Mercy Medical Center detour). Officers blared on their whistles, waving their hands furiously. The city comptroller arrived late to the Board of Estimates. And commuters sat in their cars, wondering why in the world it was taking them 30 minutes to drive several blocks.

Thank Willis and the latest installment of the Die Hard blockbuster movies, a 20th Century Fox distribution due out in theatres in July. And get ready, Baltimore motorists, for more of the same today.

"It's terrible," said Cindy Chrystal, 54, who was one in a long stream of commuters forced to turn left onto Baltimore Street from Calvert Street. "It took me 30 minutes to get here from the harbor. And I have a doctor's appointment in 30 minutes."

But for others, a little star power goes a long way. "Oh really?" said Sean Maynard, 20, of Catonsville, when told of the movie. "I think it's kind of cool. We have a movie filmed here. Wow."

Even city officials got caught in the traffic. Before yesterday's Board of Estimates meeting, officials hung around waiting for others to show up. City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt was one of the people who showed up late. "Traffic was horrible," Pratt said as she took her seat at a pre-meeting conference.

"Was Bruce Willis chasing you down the street?" Mayor Martin O'Malley asked.

Just four blocks were closed yesterday, but they were four crucial blocks. And today could be worse.

In addition to the 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. closure of Calvert Street between Baltimore and Lexington streets, and Fayette Street between Guilford Avenue and St. Paul Street, a portion of Charles Street around the Washington Monument will be closed starting this morning in preparation for the weekend's Baltimore Book Festival in Mount Vernon.

David Brown, a spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation, said the plan today would be similar to yesterday, with 17 traffic enforcement officers, along with additional police.

He said that message boards alert motorists to use different routes and that the city is advising employees to leave early and carpool, if possible. "We urge people to please exercise not only caution, but a little bit of patience. This is bringing additional revenue to the city, and we understand that there are some inconveniences that may transpire as a result."

Confusion and excitement reigned in much of downtown yesterday, including the man grumbling that he couldn't get to the post office, the stargazers scrambling to take cell phone pictures, and the two women wondering why there was a bunch of new flags on the courthouse and what were the ones with red stars? (That would be a D.C. flag, as Baltimore is meant to substitute for the nation's capital in the film.)

Gawkers stood by hushed as they waited for the big slam of a dump truck into a taxicab and later into a bus.

There was simple curiosity for many - including prosecutors and criminals trying to get into the courthouses, and city employees and investment bankers on their lunch break.

"What's going on here?" Ronnie Rivers, 25, asked the police officer directing traffic, as he craned his neck out of his car. (He had already been through two CDs worth of music, 28 songs.)

"And why are all the cars on Calvert Street pointing in the wrong direction?"

Surely, the southbound parked cars sitting on Calvert Street between Baltimore and Fayette streets was the first tipoff that something was amiss. And the bountiful American and District of Columbia flags waving from the courthouses the next.

And then there was the Pennsylvania Station Metro stop sign and the D.C. taxis and bus.

Some residents felt a little slighted over Baltimore being the stand-in for Washington. "That's upsetting," said Alex Galiani, 34, of Towson, who was still excited enough to take pictures of Willis with his cell phone. "It should be a featured location rather than pretending to be another city."

Still, Galiani, like many others, couldn't help but feel a sense of pride that a bit of Hollywood was in Baltimore. He, like many others, said that being featured in the movie, and the economic benefits that come with it, are worth the inconveniences of detours and traffic.

Though the city and state don't get paid for filming, all costs incurred - such as police overtime - are reimbursed. And the economic boost of having hundreds of crew members and staff will give the city an estimated $3.5 million in revenue, said Hannah Lee Byron, the city's director of the division of film, video and television.

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