Martin Whittier, a cinematographer and camera shop founder who bolstered the Baltimore filmmaking scene, died Aug. 11 at age 37.
Traveling back from a networking event in Pennsylvania that night, Mr. Whittier was killed in a car crash alongside his close friend Nate Brubaker, also an influential figure in Baltimore’s film community.
A loving husband and father to two boys, Mr. Whittier was a talented camera operator with expertise in several aspects of film production. His shop, CharmCine, founded in 2015, became a rare local source for specialized equipment and filmmaking wisdom for artists in Baltimore and fostered young filmmakers looking to break into the industry. By the time he sold the business in 2021, Mr. Whittier had additional locations in Alexandria, Virginia, and Philadelphia.
That left more time for passions new and old, says his wife, Daniela Whittier. He started taking Brazilian jiu jitsu classes and had a goal of becoming a black belt by the time he turned 50 years old, she said. A friend described Martin as a “goal-seeking missile,” she said. And that was to be his next pursuit.
Mr. Whittier, who lived with his family in Havre de Grace, was even-keeled and insightful, his wife added. He was known to pause television shows and films at home to point out errors that would escape the notice of all but the most trained eyes. Most recently, it was an episode of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” she said. Mr. Whittier noticed that the crew had seemingly used a piece of black tape to cover a logo on a headset for a helicopter pilot and forgotten to edit it out in post-production.
Mr. Whittier was born Nov. 24, 1984 in Havre de Grace to Bruce and Karen Whittier, both of whom worked for the military, Ms. Whittier said. He was a self-described “Army brat” who grew up in military communities in Maryland and Germany. He attended Perryville High School, where he participated in wrestling, an interest he carried into adulthood.
Mr. Whittier studied film production at Full Sail University and started his job as a contractor at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in 2004, capturing videos and high-speed photographs during tests of weaponry and vehicles at Aberdeen Test Center.
That’s where he met his wife, who was also working on the Army base. Although she initially dismissed the possibility of a relationship because they were separated in age by about six years, they were quickly drawn to each other, Ms. Whittier said.
“I was immature, and he was very mature. So we just met in the middle,” she said with a laugh.
After happy hours with coworkers at Coakley’s in Havre de Grace, they started to linger and go to the movies together, Ms. Whittier said. Although they tried to hide their budding romance, the ruse didn’t last long.
“We would both show up separately at the restaurant, at different timing, thinking we were being very clever,” she said. “And then later on, when we told everyone we were dating, they went, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve known about it for months.’”
Mr. Whittier’s excitement for life was infectious, his wife says, and the young couple enjoyed traveling, rock climbing, snowboarding and scuba diving, she said. The pair even went sky diving together and took a backpacking trip around Europe with a few other family members. Mr. Whittier proposed on the ski slopes in Vermont, his wife said. The couple had two children, Benjamin, 9, and Emmett, 7.
After Emmett was born, Martin took several weeks off from work for paternity leave and worked a few freelance jobs while helping to care for the children. He fell in love with the schedule and later decided to work part-time at APG to pursue it with gusto before leaving the base altogether.
As Mr. Whittier took more and more jobs and founded his own production company called Brumar Films, he amassed plenty of specialized equipment and would lend it out to other cinematographers in need, inviting them to check it out in his unfinished basement.
CharmCine was the result. The first storefront was in Rosedale, a small shop beside a hair salon, said Natasha Marshall, who became one of Mr. Whittier’s first employees.
When she returned her first set of borrowed equipment, she told Mr. Whittier it could use a small addition. And less than a week later, he reached out to her on Facebook with a photo of the very same addition she’d asked for.
“Just for you,” he’d written.
Inspired by his attentiveness, Ms. Marshall started visiting the shop more and more, and she would assist Mr. Whittier as he prepared for film shoots for commercials and other short filmmaking projects in the region. After months of convincing, Mr. Whittier entrusted Ms. Marshall with running the shop when he wasn’t around. It allowed him to pursue more freelance gigs, the proceeds from which he would pour back into the store, Ms. Marshall said.
Mr. Whittier enjoyed helping young filmmakers develop their craft, Ms. Marshall added. He would serve as a cameraman for their projects and loan out equipment at discounted rates.
“Anyone that came into the shop and had a passion project and was adamant about it, he would either give you a heavy discount or just tell you that you could pay him at a later date,” said Kyle Deitz, who was a budding cinematographer when he met Mr. Whittier.
Mr. Whittier moved the shop to Halethorpe with the goal of making it easier to access for customers coming from Baltimore, Washington or Philadelphia, Mr. Deitz said. There, he shared an office space with Mr. Brubaker, who was running his own production company. The two became frequent collaborators and good friends.
Mr. Whittier remained passionate about growing his stock to meet the needs of his customers, said Mr. Deitz.
“He would say he would have something, but he might not have it, and then he’d spend all night trying to find out where to source it from and you would never know. And I’m only recently finding this out through stories of other people,” Mr. Deitz said.
It was part of the reason Ms. Marshall called him “Marty the Missile.”
“He built a rental house that can stand toe to toe with the best of New York and LA,” said cinematographer Aidan Gray. It opened up a whole new world to cinematographers in Baltimore, many of whom would previously travel to Washington D.C., for equipment.
Mr. Whittier frequently welcomed the community into the shop for open houses, eager to open up the world of cinema cameras to more eager eyes, Mr. Gray said. And he was a relentless problem solver.
As CharmCine expanded, Mr. Whittier grew eager to spend more time with his family. He sold the business to camera company Red Star in 2021.
“I’m so glad that we had the summer together and we spent so much time together,” Ms. Whittier said.
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The family went on a road trip to Florida in July, visiting Disney World, Key Largo and more.
A few years ago, Mr. Whittier finished the family’s basement in Havre de Grace — the same one that hosted a rack of camera equipment that became the foundation of CharmCine. He even added a rock climbing wall for his two boys.
“I swear that guy could learn how to do anything he set his mind to,” Ms. Whittier said. Hence, Marty the Missile.
In addition to his wife and sons, Mr. Whittier is survived by his parents, Bruce and Karen Whittier of Conowingo; his brother, Willis Whittier, of Newark, Delaware; his father- and mother-in-law, Patrick and Annemarie Howard of Colorado Springs, Colorado; and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.
A viewing will be held in the Cook Auditorium at Mountain Christian Church of Joppa on Monday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Funeral service will also be there from noon to 1 p.m., followed by interment at Mountain Christian Church.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the college fund for Martin’s sons. Donations can be sent to Daniela Whittier, P.O. Box 772, Havre de Grace, MD 21078.