First it was drugs, crime and corruption, now it's sex. TV and Baltimore sure make for an interesting mix.
A year after The Wire stopped filming here, the pilot for another HBO television series, this one based on a book by D.C. sex blogger Jessica Cutler and executive-produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, began shooting in Baltimore yesterday.
Parker, who spent several days in Baltimore and Annapolis shooting scenes for her 2006 comedy Failure to Launch, said the pilot will be filmed here largely because of Charm City's proximity to Washington, where the pilot is set.
"HBO has a nice history of shooting in Baltimore, for a variety of reasons," she said. Being so close to Washington makes it an attractive, as well as far cheaper, alternative to shooting there, she said. And the film crews already here, a holdover from five seasons of shooting The Wire, are a definite plus.
"It's a city that's affordable," Parker said. "Plus, it has a really first-class working crew that has shot great stories for a number of years now."
In addition, Parker said, she's a big fan of Baltimore and what it has to offer.
"Baltimore is a great city," she said over the phone last week from her New York office. "It's beautiful, and it has some terrific architecture that is really exciting." All that, plus she's looking forward to eating some steamed crabs, "all that kind of Eastern Seaboard food," said Parker, who lives in New York with her husband, Matthew Broderick, and their son.
The Washingtonienne, a half-hour comedy centering on a young woman who flees New York to move in with some friends in the nation's capital, was scheduled to begin shooting in the city yesterday, said Parker, who plans to be in Baltimore for the entire six-day shoot. Although she won't be appearing in the pilot herself, the Sex and the City star said the filming marks a milestone for her. It's the first pilot - sort of a trial run, so network executives can see what the series will look like - from her production company, Pretty Matches, to be ordered by HBO, the network that carried Sex and the City for six seasons, from 1998-2004.
"It's about a young woman named Jackie, who has bailed out of New York," Parker said. "She comes to D.C. out of convenience, because she has some college buddies who work on the Hill. She has no options left, so she comes to D.C. and crashes in [a] friend's apartment, and that's where the story begins."
The proposed series is loosely based on The Washingtonienne, a "novel" by Cutler that began as an explicit Internet sex diary. Cutler was a one-time aide to former Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio.
The pilot will star Australian actress Rachael Taylor (Transformers) as Jackie, with Bitsie Tulloch (the Internet and NBC series Quarterlife) and Amanda Walsh (ABC's Sons & Daughters) as her friends April and Laura.
Although she wouldn't reveal specific filming locations, Parker said she was in Baltimore late last month, scouting out especially photogenic sites. She said she was especially impressed with several, including the George Peabody Library on Mount Vernon Place and the B&O Building on Charles Street. Representatives of the Baltimore Museum of Art and Pazo restaurant on Aliceanna Street have said their buildings would be used as filming sites.
Local casting director Pat Moran said the filming is expected to require the use of between 700 and 900 extras, in both speaking and nonspeaking roles. (Anyone interested should send a recent photo, along with their name, phone number and any union affiliation, to Pat Moran & Associates, Attn: Sareva HBO background set, 3500 Boston St., Baltimore 21224.)
Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, said The Washingtonienne is coming to Baltimore at a particularly good time. Although several other film and television projects are scouting the area, he said, none have committed to come here. Being so close to the nation's capital, where filming can be difficult and expensive, has its advantages, he said.
"Once again, Baltimore is getting the opportunity to double for Washington, D.C.," Gerbes said. "We double for D.C. well."
Parker said the expected nine-day shoot will include three days in Washington. She couldn't say whether further episodes would also be filmed in Baltimore. HBO first will have to decide whether to pick up the series, she stressed - a decision with no timetable.
"There are enormous benefits to Baltimore, we love being there," she said. "But I don't want to put the cart before the horse."