HBO's 'Veep' gets off to promising start in Baltimore

"Veep," the big-name, much-buzzed-about HBO pilot starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, wrapped filming Saturday after six days in and around Baltimore.

The producers, who include Louis-Dreyfus, cultural critic Frank Rich and writer-director Armando Iannucci, came to town last week, bringing work for more than 200 area performers and 500 crew members. And they left many on the project confident that the pilot had a good chance of becoming a series. "Veep" could put a local production community — all but wiped out after the end of "The Wire" — back on its feet.


"You know, there are two kinds of sets — there's good ones and there's bad ones," says Pat Moran, the Emmy Award-winning casting director who has worked with many Baltimore filmmakers, including John Waters and David Simon.

"And this one was absolutely terrific — the kind where the star says good night to everybody. I'm serious, Julia Louis is just so terrific. … I have to tell you, I have such a good feeling about this series."


Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, linked what he saw on the closed set of "Veep" to a long chain of HBO productions filmed in Baltimore that included such Simon works as "The Corner" and "The Wire," and the Emmy Award-winning films "Something the Lord Made" and "Shot in the Heart."

"We've never had a negative experience with an HBO production," Gerbes said. "And 'Veep' reminded everyone this week how great it can be working with them."

The pilot took six days to shoot, four here and two in Washington, with Baltimore standing in onscreen for the nation's capital in this political satire about a senator (Louis-Dreyfus) who suddenly becomes vice president of the United States.

Locations included the Maryland Institute College of Art on Feb. 26, the first day of shooting, and DLA Piper, an international law firm with offices in Mount Washington, last Tuesday. Offices at Piper were converted to resemble Senate offices on Capitol Hill, said Heather Reid, a senior marketing manager at DLA Piper in Baltimore.

Otherwise, Maryland filming took place on a soundstage in Columbia.

"If this becomes a series, I think it would be such a spotlight for Baltimore," Moran says. "It would be set in D.C., of course, but everybody in the industry would know where it's coming from."

Moran says she cast "about a dozen" speaking parts out of the Baltimore-Washington branch of the Screen Actors Guild, and helped bring in about 200 extras "as background" for scenes in the pilot.

The local actors who have speaking parts include Doug Roberts and David DeBoy, from the Baltimore area. Known for his work on WBAL radio, Roberts also appeared in "The Wire."

Singing the praises of "In The Loop," a feature-film satire of British politics written and directed by Iannucci, Moran says, "When I saw that film, which I love, I knew right then and there that every word was important to this director — and that every person who walked by on every scene was going to matter to him."

So, she says, "Even on small roles, I called in big-gun actors such as Doug. This involves timing and getting it exactly right. With a director such as Armando, you just want to make sure the actors you bring in are solid pros, and whatever he wants to throw at them, they can catch. And they did."

Lamenting the state of the local film and TV industry since the departure of "The Wire," Roberts said, "Getting a part in any movie or TV show here anymore is a big deal — no matter how small that part is, because there aren't any movies or TV series being made here anymore."

There are a lot of story lines to be explored down the road with "Veep" if it becomes a series. Just as was the case with writer-producer Aaron Sorkin and "The West Wing," so will the politics of these producers and writers likely be debated. And the character played by Louis-Dreyfus is sure to be compared to real-life politicians.


But for Baltimore's local production community, being back in the business of making a big-time TV show is what mattered more than anything else last week. The economic impact on Maryland will be in the tens of millions of dollars if the series gets picked up.

Moran described her own feelings arriving at MICA for the first day.

"I pulled up on Day One, and the first thing you see are the trucks — the big white production trucks," she said. "Which, I have to tell you, always for some reason, still excite me. It just felt so good to see all those people at work doing what they do so well.

"I've been in this racket a long time, and those crews when they were full-tilt here in Baltimore a few years ago, there was no one better. … To feel that energy again, even for only a week, well, let me tell you, everybody's got their fingers crossed on this one."


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