Why it's great to film in Baltimore

Q&A

Q&A// Hannah Lee Byron

October 08, 2006|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

As many who have been stuck in some monumental traffic jams know, this is a busy time for film crews in Baltimore with two big-studio action films - Live Free or Die Hard and Shooter - filming on city's streets. Some of the thanks, or blame, for bringing Bruce Willis and his entourage to town goes to Hannah Lee Byron, director of the Baltimore City Film Office.

In two years on the job, she has not only used events like the Baltimore Screenwriters Competition to raise the profile of local filmmaking, she has made the Division of Film, Video and Television in the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts a key partner with the Maryland Film Office in drumming up regional business from Hollywood and independent producers.

Byron, who took an hour in the midst of this hectic filming schedule to speak with The Sun, will be part of a panel discussion Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Baltimore Museum of Industry on "The Growth of the Film Industry in Baltimore" with Jed Dietz, director of the Maryland Film Festival; Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office; and legendary local casting director Pat Moran. The event is part of Free Fall Baltimore, a lineup of free events this fall at museums across the city.

Did you actually start the Baltimore City film office?

No. We had the Baltimore City Film Commission, but it was over at the Department of Public Works. What the mayor did was move the film office over to the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. He wanted to underline the city's recognition of the significance and importance of the film industry. The two great people who had worked there came over with me: Rose Green [administration manager] and Fran Carmen, who has 18 years of experience. The three of us work with permitting and staging and logistics - all the things that make it smooth for production companies to film here. But we also work closely with the state film office to help bring films here. We're much more involved in marketing than the film commission was. What I try to do is lay out why it would be great to film in Baltimore. And why is it great to film here?

First of all, our excellent crew base. We save production companies thousands of dollars because they don't have to bring crews in and put crews up. They're as good as crews from Los Angeles and New York, and producers know that. We can have two feature films shooting at the same time as [HBO's] The Wire. That's a real marketing tool for us. And documentaries, and national commercials have shot here at the same time, for companies like Dick's Sporting Goods, Carmax, Underarmor, Yellow Book - lots of others, and a lot of nonprofits, too. How did Baltimore develop its crew depth?

Oh, it goes back years - because of the likes of Barry Levinson and John Waters, and because of [NBC's] Homicide filming here for many years. And crew haven't had to leave here to chase work. We've generally had enough here to sustain them. That's one reason we keep pushing. We don't want to lose crew, because they're so valuable. Of course, we do lose some to New York and L.A. just because they are so good. And besides the crews?

It sounds hokey, but we are a very film-friendly city, and that word also spreads. Production companies tell me over and over again that the people they meet here really love to see filming here - that they're enthusiastic and patient and cooperative and share a high level of enthusiasm for the film industry. Of course, some people seem to get hurt when Baltimore plays for D.C., Louisiana or Chicago. But that's another draw for us: Companies can do a couple of days in Washington and do other filming here. Our versatility is one of our selling points. We have so many looks so close together. Drive 20 minutes, you can be in the countryside with cornfields. Actually, the only negative I hear about shooting Baltimore for other cities is disbelief that Baltimore can double for D.C. - when it doesn't look anything like D.C.!

Well, you know how creative Hollywood is! But certainly some of our city streets and neighborhoods can play not just for D.C., but for Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York - and have.

You know, one of the other big draws that doesn't get attention is the cooperation of our city agencies. Our guys are some of the best in the country in the way we work together. I'm constantly told that as well. A production company comes in and the folks from our Department of Transportation, General Services and DPW and fire and police are just the best in the way we're able to work together and have been working together in this industry for a long time. And these guys work really well with our office.

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