'Blair Witch' director to shoot his next film in Western Maryland

A low-budget independent film from one of the writer-directors of "The Blair Witch Project" will be shooting in Western Maryland next month, the state Department of Business and Economic Development announced Wednesday.

"The Possession" will shoot for about four weeks in Hagerstown and other Washington County locations, writer-director Eduardo Sanchez said. He expects the movie to employ a crew of between 15 and 25 people, and hopes to hire many of them locally.

"We're trying to hire as many local people as possible," said Sanchez, who lives in Urbana, near Frederick. "We're bringing a few people from L.A., a few people from Florida, but most of the crew will be Maryland-based."

Sanchez said he hopes to have the movie ready by next spring, although he suspects it will be held for a Halloween release. The lead will be played by New York-based actor Gretchen Lodge.

"It's a story about this woman who moves into a house and starts experiencing things she can't explain," Sanchez said. "We walk the line between it being a haunted house, some kind of possession, or is it just her going crazy? By the end, you're still trying to figure out what it was.

"It's much more of a psychological film than it is horror," Sanchez said.

"The Possession" is the rare theatrical release to shoot in Maryland in recent years, thanks at least in part to the virtual elimination of the state's economic incentive program aimed at enticing filmmakers to bring their projects here. At its peak, the program contained nearly $7 million and was key in attracting several big-budget productions to Maryland, including "Ladder 49," "Rocket Science," "Step Up" and "My One and Only." In 2005, filmmaking pumped an estimated $158 million into Maryland's economy, according to state officials.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has said the state's current incentive program is all it can afford, given the lean budget times.

"We welcome the opportunity to put some of our talented film crews back to work and positively impact the local economy," O'Malley said in a statement.

O'Malley's probable challenger, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has said he would increase the fund by $11 million.

Sanchez said he would love it if "The Possession" signaled the start of a move to bring more film production back to Maryland. "Hopefully, it's the beginning of something," he said.

Not everyone is optimistic, however.

"By any empirical measure — whether man hours or dollars — it is clear to everyone in the Maryland film industry that inertia by the current administration has led to the loss of millions in spending and tax revenues and the dismantling of a film-crew base that took two decades to build," says "The Wire" creator David Simon. "This is simply the case.  State officials were warned of the trend, yet did nothing whatsoever to limit the damage.

"While the arrival of any film project in Maryland is a good thing, the hard fact remains that we failed to make even the most limited effort to maintain competitiveness with the economic realities of the industry."

Adds Maryland Film Festival founder Jed Dietz, "We're not going to get anything until we get competitive on incentives."


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