By Chris Kaltenbach
February 1, 2009
Oh, yeah, and it didn't hurt that screenwriter Marc Silverstein spent about 16 years living in Maryland, before leaving for college and a career in Hollywood.
"We were trying to think of an American urban city that didn't feel like you'd seen it a million times before," says Silverstein, 37, who has been writing scripts with partner Abby Kohn since 1999's Never Been Kissed. "And I felt like Baltimore was a place I knew well enough."
He's Just Not That Into You, which opens in theaters Friday, tracks nine characters - five female, four male - as they navigate the modern dating scene. Focusing primarily on the gals' perspective, it watches as these nine Baltimore singles (two are married to each other, but barely) date and debate, put themselves out there and pull themselves back, all the while trying to figure out how to read the guys' signals.
The film's got a great cast - Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Ginnifer Goodwin and Scarlett Johansson are the women trying to figure out Ben Affleck, Kevin Connolly, Bradley Cooper and Justin Long. And it's based on the bestselling humor book, a guide for women not perceptive enough to know when they've been dumped, inspired by an episode of Sex and the City.
But for Baltimoreans, their biggest kick will come from watching a film set and partially filmed in their beloved city, replete with Natty Boh sightings and Mount Vernon street scenes, where people watch the Terps on TV and water taxis maneuver about the harbor. Much of the Charm City ambience was reconstructed on a Los Angeles soundstage - although an apartment shared by Aniston's and Affleck's characters is photogenically close to the Domino Sugars sign, the window view is actually a backdrop created by production designer Gae S. Buckley.
But the production was filming here for two weeks in November 2007, plenty long enough for the rest of the world to get an inkling of the charm in Charm City.
Director Ken Kwapis says he was delighted when he opened up the script and saw the film would be set in Baltimore. The filming marked something of a homecoming, since his second feature, 1991's He Said, She Said, was set and filmed here. Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins starred as dueling Baltimore Sun columnists whose differences eventually morph into a mutual attraction.
"It was a pleasure to be back in Baltimore," Kwapis says. "You feel like it's a place, a very livable place, a very comfortable city, a city that's not characterized by extremes."
"Of course," he adds, reminded that the city is home to one John Waters, "You and I know that there are some very extreme characters running around Baltimore."
But Kwapis is clearly on to something, a streak of normalcy and believability, a certain down-to-earth quality, that Silverstein and Kohn were eager to tap into as well.
"We didn't want to set it someplace that was so specific, like the New York urban environment that people see so much in movies," says Kohn, who is a Los Angeles native but spent plenty of time scouting Baltimore locations (and developing a taste for crab cakes) with her writing partner. "We wanted something like, not exactly every-small-town U.S.A., but every-urban-young-center U.S.A., so we could all see ourselves in these people."
The director, a native of St. Louis, said he wanted a city "that made me feel at home." He also wanted someplace with a distinct visual sense, a place that looked warm and embracing. Skyscrapers and busy streets and huge billboards are all well and good, but they weren't what he was after. Rowhouses and quiet neighborhoods and carefully tended street signs - that's what he wanted.
"One of the things that I love about Baltimore," he says, "is that the texture of the city can be summed-up in one word: brick. The brick textures of the interiors and the exteriors are, to me, so expressive, so distinctive.
"Being a resident of Baltimore," he adds with a laugh, "you may not realize it, but boy, it's not easy to find a lot of brick in L.A."
Silverstein, whose family moved to Rockville when he was a year old and later to Olney, delighted in serving as tour guide. His parents still live near Columbia, and his brother, Jason, is a lawyer in Baltimore. He and Kohn spent weeks checking out the local bars, walking around the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, taking notes about neighborhoods ranging from Mount Vernon and Federal Hill to Brewers Hill and Highlandtown.
"The original draft of the script was a lot more Baltimore-centric," Silverstein says. "Baltimore was a much bigger character. Everything [in the movie] was set in an actual place, an actual bar or a real neighborhood." Unfortunately, production costs associated with that much location filming, as well as the need to get permission from every restaurant and bar they wanted to include, necessitated a scaling back.
"We had Natty Boh all over the place," says Kohn. "We really went whole-hog in terms of incorporating Baltimore."
Still, the filmmakers insist they got what they were looking for: A sense of place, though one different from the Hollywood norm. A sense of character, though one grounded in the reality of people you might meet. A sense of scale, where the city doesn't dominate the people living in it.
For an inkling of what the film could have been in a New York setting, just think about Sex and the City. He's Just Not That Into You may trace its lineage back to that film and TV series, but the child was determined to be nothing like the parent.
"Our film is not Sex and the City," Kwapis emphasizes. "In fact, at our press junket, our actors were all asked by a journalist what their favorite costume was in the film. They all looked at each other, and one of them said, 'I have no idea of the costumes. It's not that kind of film.'"
baltimore's closeups The Washington Monument: It's a little fuzzy in the background of a street scene toward the beginning of the movie, but it's there. George would be so proud.
Natty Boh: The round-headed guy with the distinctive wink shows up at least twice. Watch for him in the bar scenes.
The Domino Sugars sign: Who cares if the view from Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck's apartment is fake? If ever a neon sign deserved yet another moment of glory ...
One didn't make it: The Smyth Jewelers sign on Charles Street, showing Natty Boh proposing to the Utz Girl. That seemed like such an iconic image," screenwriter Abby Kohn says. "Marc and I were very excited to find that." Unfortunately, Baltimore's most bewitching couple didn't make it into the final script.
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