We all love those film crews, until they tread on our toes


WALKING ALONG Charles Street one morning this past fall, I spotted a film production outfit camped alongside the curb. It turned out to be the filming of a scene from a "Homicide" episode that aired a some weeks ago.

The film crew was using the front entrance of Pennsylvania Station for a shot of a detective who had just left a train. Around the corner, in the direction of Lanvale Street, the tech crew had set up a snack table filled with apples, candies and gum, on the public sidewalk like something you'd see at a street bazaar. The crew was helping itself to the stuff.

A person who seemed to be down on his luck strolled along and asked the price on a chocolate bar. He was quickly and haughtily informed by the person staffing the table that the candy wasn't wasn't for sale -- at any price.

It was a little incident, but a telling one. What do these production companies think? If a table of attractive-looking chocolates and gum materializes on Charles Street, won't passers-by inquire about all that booty? Any why dish out a big dose of arrogance to some poor guy who just happened to be walking by the railroad station?

I'd almost forgotten about this incident until that episode of "Homicide" -- one that was given a lot of praise by the critics -- ran this winter. It was titled "Something Sacred," and was based upon priest killings in New York state.

This episode was full of scenes filmed at locations near where I live. It made liberal use of the old Goucher College building at St. Paul and 23rd Street, the Lovely Lane United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation at University Parkway and St. Paul Street, though none was specifically identified when they appeared.

So most "Homicide" viewers didn't know which Baltimore church was on the screen. But I did, and it upset me -- especially the use of the cathedral's interior: its stained-glass windows, main aisle and altar.

I'm not too comfortable with scenes of a television crime drama being set in the exact spot -- the very same pews -- where I've sat to witness family friends be married or to hear a eulogy to a departed colleague.

Our churches are the sacred temples where vows are exchanged and pall-bearers carry the caskets of those we are honoring one last time. Should these sanctuaries be used for filming television episodes of commercial crime fiction?

I've read many stories about how we Baltimoreans tune in "Homicide" in such great numbers. But these experiences had me examining my own feelings of curiosity about a show that obsesses on the ways of crime and violent death.

I am not so much affected by the show's more generic views of Baltimore street corners and cityscapes. Nor am I startled by the series' frequent shots along Thames Street in Fells Point. But I draw the line at interior shots of churches. It's too hard being asked to accept a crime fiction taking place where I've worshiped in real life.

As a result of this unpleasantness -- and the arrogance of imperious film-crew technicians -- I've found my attitude about film production in Baltimore has changed.

I was walking past the Washington Monument a few months ago when I was told (by a crew other than "Homicide's") that I was getting in the way of a shot. Excuse me, I replied. But isn't the almighty camera a distant block away on Cathedral Street?

I received another frown (and lecture) from these self-designated film police when I walked through the Mount Vernon neighborhood several weeks ago. A film crew at Park Avenue and Tyson Street hastened me on -- no locals allowed.

Then, one night last week, I arrived home to see a sign posted on my own block. It said to clear out -- a film crew from Warner Bros. would be making use of my neighborhood to film a crime drama.

Indeed, the loud portable electric generators came on shortly after dawn. A fictional brutal murder was being staged in a neighbor's apartment. The pavement was filled with a small camp of technical stuff. The goodie table was set up, too. I didn't hazard asking for anything.

Then, recently, emerging from a Harborplace escalator, I found myself face-to-face with a kiosk of "Homicide" souvenirs -- T-shirts, handcuffs and the like. The poor fellow inquiring about the goodies that day at Penn Station would certainly be welcome here, I thought -- these wares were very much for sale.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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