The Aegis
Harford County

Film Office's Jack Gerbes keeps bringing the stars to Maryland

Wearing his Maryland Film Office crab baseball cap,  Jack Gerbes talks about his job of selling Maryland for various movies and television shows. The diversity of locations and four centuries of architecture, much of it untouched, help keep Maryland's name out there, the Forest Hill resident says.

Jack Gerbes is a salesman. On a given day, he might drive around the state, looking for the perfect Victorian house or an old granary silo that can be used in a film shoot instead of a department store.

He's spent days in a van with Jodie Foster and in a helicopter with Clint Eastwood, all in the hopes of getting film crews to set up shop in the place known as "America in Miniature."


"My job is to sell the state of Maryland," Gerbes, a Forest Hill resident, who has led the Maryland Film Office since 2002, said.

The film office's and his most prominent "sale" to date may be the "House of Cards" franchise, whose first three seasons brought in $330 million to Maryland and whose Joppa-based production studio has benefited many Harford County businesses.


What keeps Gerbes and his team going is both passion for the work and a major sense of competition.

"Myself and my counterparts in other states are very, very competitive," said the film office director, who always seems to have a playful smile on his face and is constantly moving, ready to jump from one thing to the next.

"Nothing pleases me more than if I can steal a show," Gerbes said about his competition with other states, using a bit of colorful language to describe the feeling he gets.

"It's like, 'Yes! The hell with you, Pennsylvania,'" he joked.

"I think you really have to have a love for it and passion for it, and say, 'Well, let's go one more street. Maybe the perfect house is here,'" Gerbes said about his quest to find shooting locations. "It's really not a job, it's a passion, and we love it."

As any salesman knows, even more important than getting new business is keeping it. When a production is happening, "this is a 24/7 gig," Gerbes said of his office, which is based on Redwood Street in Baltimore.

Day or night, he is on hand to field requests from crew members, which can range from the mundane to the somewhat bizarre.

"Early in my career, I got a call at 3:30 in the morning from an irate producer because it was raining," he recalled.


Another time, he got a frantic message from a director, in Fells Point or downtown Baltimore, who had been given free tickets to an Orioles game.

"I got a call at 1 a.m.: 'I lost my tickets, I lost my tickets!'" Gerbes said. The director ultimately found his passes to the game.

'Still excited about movies'

The 63-year-old native of New York's Hudson Valley region first joined the Maryland Film Office as a project manager in 1992.

"I always loved movies," he said, recalling how he used to make movies of toy soldiers with his father's 8-mm film camera as a child.

Working on more than 125 films or TV series, including shows like "VEEP," "The Wire" and "Homicide," has been a major thrill for Gerbes.


His credits include "Wedding Crashers," "Enemy of the State," "Runaway Bride," "Step Up," "Live Free or Die Hard" and "The Blair Witch Project."

He was especially fond of his time spent working with Terry Gilliam, director of the 1995 movie "12 Monkeys" and a veteran of the Monty Python comedy troupe.

"Every day, you didn't want the shoot to end because he was just so fun and creative," Gerbes said.

The main difference in bringing in film crews today is having to offer incentives. Getting "House of Cards" to stay in Maryland, and Harford County, has meant millions of dollars in incentives, but Gerbes firmly believes that is paying off.

"The first question used to be, 'Do you have good locations? What's your crew base?' Now the first question is, 'How much can you get in incentives?'" he said.

Nearly 40 states offer incentives, he said, but the payoff is huge for local businesses, he believes.


"When the deal comes together, you can see all these guys are working, feeding their families, all because of getting this in here. It makes you feel like, hey, you've done something good," Gerbes said.

"Berlin is still getting people visiting for 'Runaway Bride,'" he said. "It keeps on giving and giving and giving, and it's a real sense of pride."

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, "a huge supporter of 'House of Cards' in general," was speaking at an event in Las Vegas and said, "80 percent of the people that came up to him came because they wanted to talk about 'House of Cards,'" Gerbes said.

Woody Harrelson once stayed at the Inn at the Black Olive in Fells Point, while filming the 2012 movie "Game Change." The actor ended up buying the property two years later, Gerbes noted.

"Can you count that [financially]? No. But it's an effect," he said.

Jay Russell, director of "Tuck Everlasting," which was filmed inHarford, said working withGerbes and filming in Maryland was "such a positive, satisfying process" that he decided to film his next project, "Ladder 49," in the state as well.


"When I tell my fellow directors the stories of making "Ladder 49," they simply cannot believe what we were able to achieve in Baltimore. We actually hung Joaquin Phoenix off the side of a 20-story building by a single firefighter's rope – no stunt double and with no net below in case the rope broke – with a police helicopter hovering overhead – in downtown Baltimore – during rush hour," Russell said via email.

Russell said he hopes Maryland can continue supporting productions with more tax incentives.

"As with most businesses, it all comes down to the bottom line, and states like Georgia and Louisiana have such strong financial packages that they are grabbing all the productions," Russell wrote.

With companies like Netflix and Hulu, "more people are looking for content," Gerbes said. "There's more need for productions. When you just had the studios and TV, even before cable, you only had a certain need for it."

The film office just had The History Channel's "American Pickers" in the state. They shot in Somerset and Garrett counties. A CNBC show "Blue Collar Millionaires" was connected with people in Allegany and Cecil counties.

What keeps attracting people to Maryland is the wide range of opportunities.


"This is misused a lot, but, 'America in miniature,'" Gerbes said, referring to the state's longtime nickname.

"If you are in the inner city where 'The Wire' was shot, in 25 minutes you could be in the field where Julia Roberts was riding the horse in 'Runaway Bride,'" he said.

In the 2005 movie "Syriana," Maryland stood in for sites like Geneva and Russia, he said.

The diversity of locations and four centuries of architecture, much of it untouched, help keep Maryland's name out there, he said.

Also, "there's a large acting base here, and a diverse acting base, which is important," he said. "People in Maryland are still excited about movies. They are proud of the fact that 'House of Cards,' 'Tuck Everlasting,' 'Enemy of the State' are here."

The film office is also committed to working with local talent and smaller companies, he said.


"Just as important as bringing in the big names is, there's a very good local independent scene, and it's just as important to work with them because they could be the new Barry Levinson, John Waters, David Simon," Gerbes explained.

"We work with low-budget, no-budget, student films," Gerbes said with a laugh. "That's what we are there for, and also to hook people up."

The Aegis: Top stories

The Aegis: Top stories


Daily highlights from Harford County's number one source for local news.

Although Gerbes clearly loves his job, he is quick to note that show business is, first and foremost, a business.

His kids, Katie and Luke, have never fallen for the idea of "Hollywood glamour," and they "are really not overly impressed."

He recalled one time when he brought Katie to the set of the 1997 movie "For Richer or Poorer," because Gerbes was friends with actor Tim Allen's assistant.

"She ended up falling asleep," Gerbes said about his daughter.


At the end of the day, bringing in successful productions and keeping the many faces of Maryland out there is what it's all about for the perennially upbeat Film Office director.

"If I'm wearing my 'House of Cards' hat, people will say, 'I love that show. Did you know it shoots here?'" he said with a laugh.

The film crews "are manufacturing something that will be seen all over the world, and it's promoting Maryland," he said.