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HBO to film 'Game Change' in Maryland

HBO will film "Game Change," a made-for-TV movie based on the best-selling account of the 2008 presidential campaign, in Maryland this spring, Gov. Martin O'Malley's office said Friday.

The film, which will follow the campaign of Sen. John McCain from his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as running mate through the November general election, is expected to provide jobs for 160 production crew members and 1,800 local actors and extras.

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Location scouting will probably start next week, with the production taking anywhere from one to two months "in and around Baltimore" this spring, Len Amato, the president of HBO films, said in a telephone interview with the Sun Friday.

Julianne Moore will play Palin, a casting announcement this week that was much discussed in the media. Amato said the role of McCain had not yet been cast, but that was in the works and would be announced soon. With the success of the book and the controversy any depiction of Palin includes, "Game Change" will surely be one of the most buzzed-about TV movie productions of the year. Read Palin's reaction here.

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"As with all our films and especially one where people may have pre-conceived notions about the character that is being portrayed, you want to have a great actress," Amato said.

"You want to have a great actress who is not doing an imitation, but is really doing the work that a great actor does to get into the role and to show the humanity and all the different aspects that make up us all of us," he added. "We're all complex, and so to have someone play Sarah Palin you need someone who can explore all those facets. We feel very fortunate to have gotten Julianne Moore -- that Julianne Moore thinks there's the complexity to the role that makes it worth her time to be participating with us in this."

Based on the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, the film will be directed by Jay Roach and written by Danny Strong. Roach and Strong, who collaborated on another HBO political movie, the Emmy-Award-winning "Recount," which told the story of the vote recount in Florida that resulted in George W. Bush beating out Al Gore for the presidency, will also be executive producers. In addition to an Emmy for the film, Roach won an Emmy and a Directors Guild award for his work, while Roach won an Writers Guild award for the script.

"We are very proud of Recount," Amato said. "A lot of people had preconceived notions about what certain films like this -- fact-based films, political films -- are going to be. And they certainly had preconceived notions when they heard we were going to be doing Recount. But we just want to get the story right. And I felt we did get the story right in Recount, which was borne out by the reaction of the journalistic community and the community that lived it. Our hope and our expectation is to do the same with this film."

But Amato added that making political movies for prime-time TV is not the same thing as writing history -- even on TV's most prestigious premium channel.

"You know, we're making films, right?" he said. "So obviously, they're not book reports, they're not history lessons. They may achieve some insight into history -- and we hope they do. But they're films and they should be entertaining and emotional and involve the audience -- and that's one of the primary goals for a film. Yes, we do have a high standard of wanting to get the story right, wanting to achieve an essential truth about the people and the event, so these things are scrupulously researched, and we do everything we can to try and tell the story in a balanced way. And the best thing for films like this is to let the audience draw their own conclusions."

HBO has a long and rewarding history with Baltimore and Maryland. It includes the mini-series "The Corner" and the series "The Wire," as wll as such films as "Shot in the Heart" and "Something the Lord Made." Amato listed that history along with several other factors in explaining why HBO chose to make the film here.

"Look, this is good subject matter [politics] to be shooting in Maryland -- in and around Baltimore. So, that works organically for the story," Amato said.

"But Baltimore and the area around it also have great crews," he continued. "There are great actors, and there's great access to actors [on the East Coast]. And then, just the variety of locations you can get in the state, which is really helpful when you're going here and there and trying to maximize one location to get different looks. That's really what atttracts us to Maryland -- the state, Gov. O'Malley's office, the Maryland Film Office and the Department of Business and Economic Development make you feel welcome and help you get the project made the way it should be made."

"HBO produces the highest quality and most-acclaimed films and series on television." O'Malley said in a statement announcing the production Friday. "The talent involved in Game Change once again proves their commitment to entertainment excellence. We are very pleased to welcome HBO back."

O'Malley had been attacked during the gubernatorial campaign last year by his Republican opponent, Bob Ehrlich, for allegedly not offering enough incentives to bring big-time TV and film productions to Maryland.

But last week, HBO finished filming the pilot for "Veep," a political satire starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in Maryland. And there is good reason to believe it will go to series and be filmed in and around Baltimore as well.

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That coupled with "Game Change" is very good news for a local production community that had been all but  shut down since "The Wire" ended its five-season run on HBO in 2008.

The O'Malley administration has certainly answered those complaints in the first months of its second term.

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