Maryland stars in homegrown drama, complete with a Hollywood ending

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Most states run out of funding for films. Until two days ago, Maryland had the opposite problem.

After a planned shoot was pushed back indefinitely, the state's film office found itself with an unexpected $2 million in its rebate fund for fiscal 2009, which ends June 30.

The state was forced to scramble to find a TV show or film to take advantage of the money or risk losing it.

"We don't know if we would be able to roll it over," Maryland Film Office director Jack Gerbes said this week. "I don't want to take that chance. Also, I want to get our crews working as soon as possible."

The funds had to be committed by month's end. Although the production doesn't need to begin filming by then, the $2 million must be allotted and the necessary documentation processed.

Other states also must deal with this problem. Although they want to say yes to as many productions as possible to reap the economic benefits, fiscal realities allow them to commit to a select few. But after film commissions decide on their projects, what happens if one falls by the wayside? They can't go back to other suitors because, in most cases, they have moved on to other states.

"With most states with caps, this is an issue," Gerbes says. "Do you say yes to all, taking a chance not all will be able to come, or do you say yes to very few, taking a chance they might go away? Your reputation is everything in this business."

Maryland faced a similar situation last year when another project fell through; it was replaced by "My One and Only," a drama starring Renee Zellweger. That switch, though, didn't occur as close to the fiscal-year deadline.

On Wednesday, Gerbes received good news: His rolling of phone calls and shaking down industry contacts managed to procure a production in need of a location.

"They've submitted an application, and we're moving forward with it," he said, declining further comment until paperwork makes it official.

Maryland offers productions a 25% rebate on in-state costs. To qualify, a project must incur at least $500,000 in direct costs within the state, and at least 50% of filming must occur in Maryland. Its cap is $4 million a year.

The state hosted two recent pilot shoots: Fox's "Past Life" and HBO's "The Washington¬ienne." HBO's "The Wire" also called the state home, as did the indie "An American Affair."

Baked Alaska

Disney's "The Proposal," about a high-powered book editor (Sandra Bullock) who gets engaged to her lowly assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to avoid deportation to Canada, is set primarily in Sitka, Alaska, the man's hometown.

So, naturally, the production headed to Massachusetts. (The state's 25% film-incentive rebate might have had something to do with it.)

Much of the action takes place in a beautiful stone manse on an island. Don't let Hollywood magic fool you, though: The house is real, but it's not on an island, and it doesn't really reflect Alaskan style.

The actual house is located in Manchester-by-the-Sea and was discovered by accident. Director Anne Fletcher recalls being on a scouting trip with producers, looking for a home on the water with a dock but having no luck. She found a stone house she liked, but no one shared her enthusiasm. The trip was a bust.

A month later, production designer Nelson Coates returned from his scouting trip with news: He had found a house -- the same one Fletcher spotted.

"It was the only house that could resemble Alaska from the outside because Alaskan houses are very specific," Fletcher says.

To give it a Northern feel, totem poles were built and pine trees were added to the yard. The houses surrounding the property were erased digitally in postproduction, and mountains -- pine green because the story is set in the summer -- were added.

"There wasn't a green tree around because it was the dead of winter, so we had to green all of the trees and put in the types of pines that would be in Alaska," she says.

Inside, the decor was done in a New England and American Colonial style the owners weren't eager to change.

So Coates went into action, creating elaborate interior facades of dark-wood tones and stone walls that evoked the woodsy Alaskan lifestyle and "lived" on top of the actual interior.

"Everywhere you turned was a fake front," Fletcher says.
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