Following the debunked threats to ‘Lady in the Lake,’ Baltimore filmmakers have pledged to stay in the city.
Members of the crew filming the TV miniseries “Lady in the Lake” began dismantling an illusion on Tuesday.
The elaborate facade that had transformed the 200 block of Park Avenue in 2022 into Pennsylvania in the 1960s came tumbling down. The menu for a fictitious restaurant called “Little Willie’s,” which advertised an oyster sandwich for 50 cents, as well as vintage traffic signs and a poster advertising a performance by the late, great singer Ella Fitzgerald at the Royal Theatre, fell to the floor.
It only took a few hours to restore the neighbourhood to its 2022 appearance. Baltimore arts advocates hope that restoring the city’s reputation as a film-friendly town will be as simple.
Production on the Apple TV+ miniseries, based on a novel by former Baltimore Sun reporter Laura Lippman, was temporarily halted on Friday. According to police, a group attempted to extort $50,000 from the production, which stars Natalie Portman and Moses Ingram. If the bribe was not paid, the individuals allegedly threatened to shoot a member of the cast or crew.
This early report — now described as “inaccurate” by the Baltimore Police Department — appeared to confirm negative stereotypes about Charm City. The misinformation made national headlines and sparked heated debate on social media.
Members of Baltimore’s close-knit film community rallied to its defence as critics described the city as riddled with violence and its residents as “scum.”
David Simon, an author and producer, estimates that he has shot over 200 hours of film in Baltimore neighbourhoods for projects ranging from “Homicide: Life on the Streets” in the 1990s to “The Wire” in the 2000s and, more recently, “We Own This City.”
“Baltimore is good people,” Simon tweeted.
“Our experiences in Baltimore have been positive in every neighbourhood for twenty years,” he later explained in an email to The Sun. It’s a great place to film, has a large crew base, and caters well to productions that come here.”
Lippman, who is also a producer for “Lady in the Lake,” is his wife. She did not respond to comment requests.
According to police, they have only arrested one man, a local clothing vendor who was upset that the filming was interfering with his business. Officers reported that no gun was found, and the man was charged only with narcotics violations.
If the false report had occurred about a month after another widely publicised crime story out of Baltimore, it might have received less attention. Timothy Reynolds, 48, was killed after getting out of his car at a downtown intersection and confronting a group of squeegee workers with a baseball bat. Reynolds’ murder has been charged against a 15-year-old boy.
Local film enthusiasts are concerned that the recent double whammy of bad Baltimore publicity will harm an industry that has contributed an estimated $900 million to state coffers since 2011, according to the Maryland Film Office.
According to the film office, “Lady in the Lake” alone is expected to generate at least $47 million in economic impact in Maryland. Approximately 650 locals have been hired to work on the production.
“We always saw this as an isolated incident,” said Michael Ricci, spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. He stated that state officials are pleased that “the production is committed to moving forward in the city.”
Furthermore, Ricci stated that another major film production will begin filming in Maryland in the coming weeks. He declined to elaborate, but a recent social media post stated that producers for the show “Lioness” had contacted the Waverly Improvement Association about plans to film in the area beginning Friday.
According to trade publications, Zoe Saldaa will star in the Paramount+ espionage series. The company, King Street Productions, whose name appeared on the post, could not be reached for comment.
Since director Barry Levinson shot his breakthrough 1982 film, “Diner,” here, Baltimore has had a national reputation as a film hub for at least four decades. Since then, the state has hosted at least one major film or television production every few years, from “Sleepless in Seattle” in 1993 to “Runaway Bride” in 1999 to “He’s Just Not That Into You” in 2009. Not to mention John Waters’ cult films.
When a group of local filmmakers heard rumours of trouble on the “Lady in the Lake” set, they all said the same thing: “unprecedented.”
“This has never happened before,” said Debbie Dorsey, director of the Baltimore Film Office, in an email. “Baltimore’s locations, crew, and film infrastructure are among the best in the industry, and the Film Office continues to collaborate with the City to ensure a safe and positive environment for film production.”
Pat Moran, a longtime casting director who has worked in nearly every Baltimore neighbourhood since the 1970s, said she has received more than a dozen text messages, phone calls, and emails from colleagues across the country since the story broke.
“Everyone was stunned,” she said. “No one had ever heard of anything like this happening anywhere — not in New York, New Orleans, or Los Angeles.” A film production has a significant presence. It’s essentially like working inside a mobile village.”
The film industry, according to Annette Porter, producer of “The Conductor,” a recent documentary about Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor Marin Alsop, has a long-established list of best practises intended to minimise disruption of local neighbourhoods and avoid unsettling encounters between film crews and residents.
Location scouts typically meet with residents and the owners of local businesses — legal and otherwise — in the areas where they intend to film ahead of time. The filmmakers emphasise that they will hire local residents and shop at local businesses whenever possible.
“By definition, filmmaking is disruptive to a neighbourhood,” said Porter, co-director of the JHU-MICA Film Center. “You try to keep the disruption to a minimum.”
According to her, large film productions almost always have their own security teams to protect expensive film equipment and ensure safety protocols are followed. It is also not uncommon for celebrities to be accompanied by hired bodyguards.
“I was completely taken aback when I heard about the threats,” she said. “Everyone I know in the industry was astounded.”
She doesn’t believe the story, whether true or false, will have a chilling effect on Maryland’s film industry.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can’t imagine it,” she explained. “I haven’t heard from anyone who is reconsidering filming here.”
Baltimore, according to Jed Dietz, founder of the Maryland Film Festival, has built a reputation over decades as a city with difficult-to-replicate advantages to offer film productions.
“The crews here are incredible,” he said. “They’re in high demand across the country.”
And, he claims, filming in Baltimore is less expensive than in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, or Washington. The city also has such a diverse building stock that it can convincingly represent another era or location.
Charm City, on the other hand, has, well, charm.
“The actor Danny DeVito mentioned shooting in Baltimore with Barry Levinson and how the locals would bring them homemade cookies,” Dietz explained.
“We have a decades-long track record in Baltimore of film crews being able to go into all kinds of different neighbourhoods where people are friendly and will help you.” Such a reputation does not change overnight.”