Baltimore-bound pilot from HBO has great promise

The news last week that the pilot for an HBO political satire starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus would be filmed in Baltimore starting next month was mainly treated as a local production story here.

That's the way I wrote the piece online that broke the news of the filming, and that is probably as it should be. In a tough economy, the Maryland Film Office estimates that production of the pilot for a series about a woman vice president of the United States could have an economic impact in excess of $6 million and could create more than 700 jobs for Maryland crew and actors while "prepping and filming" in the state.

And Maryland has not had much action in TV and film production since HBO's "The Wire" ended production.

Jack Gerbes, director of the film office, says that it is "premature" to talk about whether the production, tentatively titled "VEEP," will be filmed in Baltimore if HBO takes the pilot to series.

"Right now, we're concentrating on making sure the production team and HBO have another great experience while shooting the pilot here," Gerbes said as he confirmed the news of Hollywood producers being back in town scouting locations.

Louis-Dreyfus, whose credits include "Seinfeld" and "New Adventures of Old Christine," is one of the producers. The pilot will be directed by Armando Iannucci. He and Simon Blackwell wrote the script, and Iannucci, Chris Godsick and Frank Rich are executive producers.

If it goes to series, "VEEP" will mean long-term employment for many members of the Baltimore production company who now have to live away from their families for months at a time to find work in places like Louisiana and Michigan.

But "VEEP" isn't just a local payday — another forgettable pilot worth noticing only for the much-needed work it brings to the local production community for a couple of months. Think Fox's "Past Lives," which filmed here in 2009. Don't remember the series? That's the point.

"VEEP" is a pilot with outstanding talent in front of and behind the cameras that many in the political world are watching with keen interest. This is a series that could break some new cultural ground in its takes on gender, the vice presidency and American political culture.

The news of the Baltimore filming was carried on most major political websites, including Hotline and Politico, and in a very busy news week, many of the best and brightest national reporters paused to Tweet about the news of the pilot. And it wasn't because they think Baltimore is the new Hollywood East.

Everyone knows what a terrific comedic actress Louis-Dreyfus is and can imagine on their own how good she might be a in a political satire featuring a woman vice president of the United States.

But what some folks might not know from a straight listing of the production team is how smart and wickedly funny Iannucci can be. For that, I recommend a viewing of "In the Loop," a savvy satire of British politics and U.S.-U.K. relations. The 2009 film stars Gina McKee, Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi and James Gandolfini. Move it to the top of your Netflix queue.

If you love politics, especially the cynical and calculating inside-baseball aspects of politics, you will think you have died and gone to heaven watching this film. It is darker than your darkest suspicions about political operatives. Iannucci directed and wrote it.

And, yes, the Frank Rich listed as one of the executive producers is the columnist from The New York Times.

Andrew Breitbart's right-wing website Big Hollywood is already seeing "VEEP" as a liberal attack on the likes of Sarah Palin — and complaining about it. I put no journalistic trust in that kind of ideologically driven complaint.

In fact, what I've seen so far at places like Big Hollywood only makes me consider the project all the more promising — and happy to hear that it's going to be made in Baltimore.

There is a lot of talent connected to "VEEP," and I hope they are bringing their A-games with them to Baltimore on behalf of HBO.

Louis-Dreyfus in Baltimore

Maybe Julia Louis-Dreyfus still has the Orioles baseball cap that her character, Elaine Benes, wore in the NBC series "Seinfeld." She wore it to a New York Yankees game, no less, in the episode titled "The Letter," and in those days the two teams were fiercely competitive.

As the millions of viewers who followed "Seinfeld" in the hit series' glory years know, the fictional Elaine was from Towson. And that was a fact worth noting in a series so steeped in all things New York.

But guessing that the cap from a series that ended in 1998 is probably long gone, maybe the film office should make sure Louis-Dreyfus gets a new one first thing upon her arrival to film the pilot for "VEEP" next month. Wouldn't it be a nice way of showing her how desperately Baltimore would like her and her producing partners to make the HBO production here if it goes to series?

Baseball caps aside, the real-life connections Louis-Dreyfus has to the area are a little tenuous. Her family relocated to Washington when she was 8, and she graduated from the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda in 1979.

I say go with the baseball cap — and the best package of incentives that the state can responsibly offer.

— David Zurawik