In the wake of exposed threats to ‘Lady in the Lake’, Baltimore filmmakers vow to continue working in the city

Members of the crew filming the TV series “Lady in the Lake” piece by piece Tuesday began to dismantle their illusion.

The elaborate facade that transformed Building 200 from Park Avenue in 2022 fell to Pennsylvania in the 1960s. Down came a listing for a mock restaurant called “Little Willie’s” that advertised an oyster sandwich for 50 cents, old traffic signs and a poster announcing an upcoming performance by the late great singer Ella Fitzgerald at the Theater Royal.

It took a few hours to restore the neighborhood to its 2022 appearance. Arts advocates in Baltimore hope it will be easy to restore the city’s reputation as a movie-friendly city.

Filming on Apple TV+, based on a novel written by former Baltimore Sun reporter Laura Lippmann, was paused Friday. Police said they were told that a group had attempted to extort $50,000 from productions by actresses Natalie Portman and Moses Ingram. It was alleged that the individuals threatened to return later to shoot a member of the cast or crew if the bribe was not paid.

This early report – which the Baltimore Police Department now describes as “inaccurate” – appears to confirm negative stereotypes about Charm City. The disinformation made the news nationwide and was widely discussed on social media.

As Baltimore hardliners described the city as rife with violence and its residents as “scum,” members of Baltimore’s close film community rallied to its defense.

Author and producer David Simon estimates that he has shot more than 200 hours of film in Baltimore neighborhoods for projects ranging from “Murder: Life on the Streets” in the 1990s to “The Wire” in the 2000s and earlier this year, “We own This is a city.”

“Baltimore is a good people,” Simon wrote in a tweet.

He later explained in an email to The Sun: “Our experiences in Baltimore have been positive in every neighborhood for twenty years. It’s a great city to shoot, it has a solid cast, and it serves well the productions that come here.”

He is married to Lippmann, who is also a producer of “Lady in the Lake”. It did not respond to requests for comment.

Police now say they have arrested only one man, a local clothing salesman who was upset that filming was interfering with his work. Officers said no handgun was found, and the man was charged only with a drug violation.

The false report might have attracted less attention if it had not happened about a month after another widely publicized crime story from Baltimore. Car driver Timothy Reynolds, 48, was fatally shot on July 7 after he got out of his car at a downtown intersection and confronted a group of mop workers with a baseball bat. A 15-year-old boy has been charged with the murder of Reynolds.

Local movie fans are concerned that the latest double whammy of bad publicity in Baltimore could damage an industry that since 2011 has contributed an estimated $900 million to state coffers, according to the Maryland Film Bureau.

“Lady in the Lake” alone is expected to have an estimated economic impact of at least $47 million on the state of Maryland, the Film Bureau reported. About 650 local residents were assigned to work in the production.

“We’ve always considered this an isolated incident,” said Michael Ritchie, a spokesman for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. He said state officials are happy “that production is committed to moving forward in the city.”

Furthermore, Ritchie said, there are plans to produce another major film to begin filming in the next few weeks in Maryland. He declined to provide details, but a recent social media post said the producers of a show called “Lioness” contacted the Waverly Improvement Association about filming plans in the area starting Friday.

Trade publications say Paramount + Spy will star Zoe Saldana. King Street Productions, whose name can be seen in the post, could not be reached for comment.

Baltimore has enjoyed a national reputation as a hub for film for at least four decades since director Barry Levinson shot his hit movie in 1982, “Diner” here. Every few years since then, the state has been home to at least one major movie or television production, from 1993’s “Sleepless in Seattle” to 1999’s “Runaway Bride” to 2009’s “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Cult of John Waters.

So when half a dozen domestic filmmakers heard rumors of trouble on the set of “Lady in the Lake,” they all used the same word – “unprecedented.”

“Nothing like this has happened before,” Debbie Dorsey, director of the Baltimore Film Bureau, wrote in an email. “The locations, crew, and film infrastructure in Baltimore are some of the best in business and the Film Bureau continues to work with the city to ensure a safe and positive place for film production.”

Long-time casting director Pat Moran, who has worked in nearly every neighborhood in Baltimore since the 1970s, said she’s received more than a dozen texts, phone calls and emails from castmates across the country since the story was first announced.

“Everyone was shocked,” she said. “Nobody’s ever heard of anything like this happening anywhere – not in New York, not in New Orleans, not in Los Angeles. Film production has such a big presence. It’s basically like working inside a mobile village.”

Annette Porter, producer of “The Conductor,” the latest documentary on conductor Marine Alsopp, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, said the film industry has a longstanding list of best practices aimed at minimizing disruption to local neighborhoods and avoiding unsettling confrontations between film crews and residents.

Location explorers typically meet in advance with residents and owners of local businesses – legal and illegal – in the areas where they plan to shoot. Filmmakers assure that when possible, they will hire community workers and sponsor community stores and restaurants.

“Photography is inherently disruptive to the neighborhood,” said Porter, co-director of the JHU-MICA Film Center. “You’re trying to minimize disruption as much as possible.”

She said that major film productions always have their own security teams designed to protect expensive film equipment and ensure safety protocols are followed. It’s also not unusual for stars to be accompanied by hired bodyguards.

“I was completely surprised when I heard the news of the threats,” she said. “Everyone I know in the industry was equally surprised.”

She doesn’t expect the story – baseless or not – to have a chilling effect on the Maryland film industry.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said, “but I can’t imagine it would be.” “I haven’t heard from anyone changing their plans to shoot here.”

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Jed Dietz, founder of the Maryland Film Festival, said Baltimore has built a reputation over decades as a city with hard-to-replicate advantages for making film productions.

“The crew here is incredibly good,” he said. “They are wanted all over the country.”

Compared to cities like New York, Los Angeles or Washington, he said shooting in Baltimore is relatively cheap. The city also contains a variety of building inventory so that it can convincingly stand out for another era or place.

Just as importantly, Charm City has its charms.

“Actor Danny DeVito talked about filming in Baltimore with Barry Levinson, and how the locals would get them homemade cakes,” Dietz said.

“In Baltimore, we have a decades-old track record of movie teams that have been able to go into all kinds of different neighborhoods where people are friendly and will help you. That kind of reputation doesn’t change overnight.”

Baltimore Sun photographer Amy Davis contributed to this article.

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