When the first tourists settle into their theater seats at the new Inner Harbor visitor center early next month, they'll be watching a film that promises to immerse them in the essence of Baltimore and Maryland, condensed from 50 hours of video and film footage.
From the shining waters of the Chesapeake to the mystery-tinged burial site of Edgar Allan Poe, to the quirkiness of Hampden's rowhouse culture, to dozens of other scenes, it's all there.
"My whole idea was, if I can get the visitor to walk out of there and ask a question, I've done my job," said Rita O'Brennan of Flite 3 Studios, the film's producer who, with a team of four others, has been working since January on crystallizing Charm City into a few minutes.
Tourism officials hope the movie and other features at the new $4.5 million visitor center will help in persuade leisure travelers to spend an extra night or two in Baltimore.
The center, at the north end of the Inner Harbor off Light Street, is to open May 7 with a celebration punctuated by a splashy weekend of high-profile events.
About 70 meeting planners, tour operators and members of the national media have been invited to bring guests and spend the weekend in Baltimore to help christen the center.
Highlights of the weekend are to include the first-ever Volvo Waterfront Concert Series, the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Rash Field, the Preakness Parade, a visit from the Spanish tall ship Juan Sebastian de Elcano, the Maryland Film Festival and a weekend of the Orioles battling the Cleveland Indians.
Until then, an aqua-colored, "shroud of mystery" conceals all activity within the center to create drama and an element of surprise.
At first, the task of distilling a city and a state so full of history and diversity into a quick video seemed overwhelming, said O'Brennan.
"You lock down your game plan and realize there's no way to include everyone and everything," she said. "We started at the visitor center and took the visitor out into the neighborhoods."
Tourism officials had held several brainstorming sessions with hospitality leaders to make sure that the key elements of a visit to Baltimore were being addressed before O'Brennan and her team started their work.
Fifteen to 20 percent of the images in the film will promote attractions and areas outside Baltimore as a way of luring people to other parts of the state, said Mike Pietryka, director of visitor services for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, which will run the visitor center.
"The goal was to give an orientation to those people who don't know anything about Baltimore, and for those people who do know something about Baltimore, it's to expand their understanding of what Baltimore has to offer," Pietryka said. "It's really a motivator to get them to go out of the theater and ask other questions and to upsell them."
The hope is that somewhere in those 10 minutes, something will capture their imagination and inspire them to see other attractions in their stay.
Tourism officials are keeping the presentation short enough - under 15 minutes - so that people will be willing to invest the time to watch it. They also hope to avoid mistakes made by some other cities, whose films seemed more like history lessons, O'Brennan said.
The film begins with an aerial view of Baltimore in three-dimensional animation, taking a south to northwest path into the Inner Harbor. In an animated blur, the viewer swoops down to the visitor center. The camera angle moves through the glass wall, taking the viewer into the front hall, where two glass doors open into the theater.
Inside, the outline of people's heads are visible, then the movie screen. The name of the film appears, The Baltimore Experience. About 40 seconds has elapsed, and the movie begins.
Tourism officials and the team creating the film knew that it would have to appeal to everyone, from a 3-year-old in the audience to the 86-year-old grandmother.
The film will be shown in the 50-seat theater twice every hour.
"It's definitely an upbeat film," O'Brennan said. "There's so much information, it's not going to seem like 10 minutes has passed. Some of the other cities felt dry, and they felt long. They were giving too much information upfront instead of trying to entice the visitor to ask a question."