THE TV series "Homicide" is quintessential Baltimore....


THE TV series "Homicide" is quintessential Baltimore. But as film production in the city has increased, Baltimore is dressed up to portray Washington, New York, Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Columbus, Ohio.

In one forthcoming motion picture, Mount Vernon Square at night even pretends to be Paris!

Baltimore may not be Hollywood on the Patapsco, but to a growing list of screen artists it represents a versatile location that is both uncomplicated and low-cost.

Filming permits and local cooperation are easy to get. Professional talent is abundant: Producers can come to Baltimore with just the big stars and hire most everyone else locally.

Nothing succeeds like success. As the number of films shot in Baltimore has swelled, other Hollywood production companies have taken notice.

Clint Eastwood spent three weeks here filming "Absolute Power," scheduled for release in February. Agnieszka Holland, hailed for "Europa, Europa," shot most of her "Washington Square" here. The movie remake of a Henry James love story that takes place in New York City also is expected in theaters next year.

Films now funnel between $40 million and $60 million annually into the local economy.

Michael B. Styer of the Maryland Film Office thinks that with added marketing efforts the amount could be much higher because the state is so varied in its geography and its attractions. "We can do almost anything here but a Western," he says.

Maryland's success in Hollywood is largely due to the state's small film office. Operating on a $269,000 budget, it doggedly pursues leads.

Then it does whatever it takes to steer films here and cut red tape. Currently the office is keen on landing TV "movie of the week" productions. Hollywood cranks out more of these films than theatrical releases.

Finding Mr. Styer's office is a bit of a problem, though. Its telephone number is hidden under deep layers of state bureaucracy: You first have to look up the Department of Business and Economic Development, then go to the Office of Tourism, Film and Arts before you see the Maryland Film Commission (its old name).

Fortunately, by now, Hollywood types apparently know who to call. And they do.

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