A 'Die Hard' locale you'll know well: Charm City

The Baltimore Sun

Bruce Willis sightings. Traffic jams that left drivers fuming. Helicopters whizzing through the city sky. A heavy dose of moviemaking razzle-dazzle, right here in Charm City.

It all started with a cell phone call.

Maryland Film Office director Jack Gerbes was preparing to take off for last year's Fourth of July holiday when some folks from 20th Century Fox put a call out. They were getting ready to film Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth film in the blockbuster Die Hard franchise, and were looking for a location to shoot a few big scenes. Maybe Baltimore would work?

"They tracked me down at my home, on my cell," Gerbes says. Film producer Mike Fottrell said, "'I hope you don't have any plans for the Fourth, because we're coming over.'"

A few days later, Gerbes was showing off the city to a group that included Fottrell, Len Wiseman, the film's director, and Patrick Tatopoulos, its production designer. "They wanted the whole tour of Baltimore," he says.

Apparently, they liked what they saw. Just over two months later, the cast and crew of Live Free or Die Hard, including stars Bruce Willis and Justin Long, were ensconced in the city. On two weekends in late September, helicopters buzzed over Baltimore's central business district, shooting footage for the movie's high-octane helicopter chases. During the week in-between, scenes were shot in the area surrounding the city's courthouses -- scenes that necessitated the closing of several blocks to traffic, including the busy corner of Calvert and Fayette streets. The shutdown caused major headaches for commuters.

Pulling it off proved a logistical nightmare, involving representatives from the office of then-Mayor Martin O'Malley, as well as from the police, traffic, courts and other departments. Businesses that would be affected by the filming had to be notified.

Even scheduling proved difficult. For safety and security reasons, the helicopter scenes could not be shot while a baseball game was taking place at Camden Yards.

"We knew it was a very tricky undertaking," says Hannah Byron, then-head of the city film office and now assistant secretary for the state's Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts. "But we wanted to do it for Tom Rothman."

Baltimore-born Rothman is the co-chair of Fox Filmed Entertainment; Byron credits him with bringing the Die Hard filming to his hometown.

"We wouldn't have done this for anybody else," Byron says. Of course, she's exaggerating a little. Byron and her office are in the business of making things happen for movie producers who want to film in Maryland, and they're accommodating.

After all, the Die Hard filming contributed an estimated $2.6 million to the state's coffers.

But close a busy intersection in the heart of Baltimore for several days running? That may be going a bit far.

"It's not something I would venture to do again," Byron says with a sigh. "And as challenging as it was for all of us, I felt like it was even more of a hurdle for the commuters."


On the big screen

A few of the highlights from Baltimore's co-starring role in Live Free or Die Hard.

As John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his computer-geek charge, Matt Ferrell (Justin Long), wind their way through the clogged streets of Washington, they're actually winding their way through the clogged streets of Baltimore. Specifically, they're stuck near the corner of Calvert and Fayette streets, with the Battle Monument clearly in view. The sharp-eyed may notice that the film has traffic heading the wrong way on both streets.

The film's helicopter chase was filmed in Baltimore, giving audiences a chopper's-eye view of the city's central business district.

Kevin Smith plays Warlock, a Baltimore-based computer hacker of mythic proportions who works out of a "command center" in the basement of his mother's rowhouse, played by a home in the 2000 block of Madison St.

The film's climax is set at the Social Security complex in Woodlawn. Although the scenes were shot elsewhere, when was the last time Woodlawn got mentioned so prominently in the movies?

Chris Kaltenbach

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad