"In New York, you could close down the Brooklyn Bridge at rush hour and nobody would say a word. We're more civilized down here," says Richard Maulsby.
Maulsby directs the D.C. Mayor's Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. When movies are made in Washington, he and assistant David Simon swing into action:
* Simon: "When the 'Real People' express train came into Union Station to film, they wanted the Cardozo marching band; we got them that. They wanted the mayor; we got them that. They wanted a Redskin; we got them that."
* Maulsby: "Can you imagine trying to shoot with Mr. T at Cardozo High School when the kids were out at lunchtime? They went CRAZY. Thirty-seven special detail police officers weren't enough, so I arranged for about 50, and Universal Studios reimbursed the city for $25,000 worth of officers' overtime."
* Simon: "I got a frantic call during the Frank Perdue Chicken Dog commercial that trucks were unloading in the middle of a very busy street and was there anything I could do to help traffic control. So I called the police and sent them over to help."
The film office has completed 30 projects since January, ranging from the movie "D.C. Cab," starring Mr. T and Gary Busey, to the Frank Perdue "Chicken Dog Press Conference" commercial. The just-released 3-D movie "The Man Who Wasn't There" was filmed in Washington in April and May, and television shows made here recently include episodes from forthcoming sitcoms "The Scarecrow and Mrs. King," starring Kate Jackson, and "Mr. Smith," featuring the orangutan of the same name.
According to Maulsby, film and TV productions created 2,061 temporary jobs here from January to June of this year. Most significant, he says, is the $15.3 million he estimates the productions have brought already this year to the city's businesses--hotels, caterers, limousine services, to name a few. (Maulsby and Simon kept track of money spent here during the filming of a TV commercial, a TV series and a feature film, and multiplied those averages by the number of productions). The office's own budget is $85,000 a year, which covers four items: Maulsby's salary, Simon's salary, printing costs for their glossy brochure and costs of advertising in trade journals.
The film office takes care of the myriad details for those who come to Washington to film movies, commercials, documentaries and television shows, from rearranging trash collections to posting no-parking signs 72 hours in advance. Simon is at every "shoot" to ensure that all goes well.
"I do whatever needs to be done," says Simon, "I try and help take care of the citizens to see that nobody's feelings get hurt and see that the actors and crew are taken care of. A lot of what I do is wait around for a situation that could arise."
"Situations" that have arisen make for the inevitable plethora of film lore:
* Street vendors scheduled for the Frank Perdue Chicken Dog commercial mischieviously donned Frank Perdue face masks moments before the Chicken King himself arrived. Simon: "There were short Frank Perdues and chubby Frank Perdues, black Frank Perdues and light Frank Perdues."
* "D.C. Cab" tried to film the Redskins Super Bowl Parade. Maulsby: "We hired a cameraman from '60 Minutes.' Everything was set. And it just poured. BUCKETS."
* "The Scarecrow and Mrs. King" was filming in a downtown alley. After nightfall. In pitch blackness. Simon: "It was dark and spooky and that was a scene where they were dumping a body--it was a perfect alley."
"We want people to know there is more to Washington than just 'postcard Washington,' " says Maulsby. "I'm trying to get them off the Mall and into the city's neighborhoods."
The whole procedure begins with a phone call to the film office, usually from an associate producer who has a script or perhaps just an idea. Maulsby and Simon will arrange a Washington trip for a "preliminary scout" ("We make sure they stay in D.C. hotels") during which production people learn the logistics of local unions, permits and foreseeable location problems. Maulsby then suggests local personnel the production might use, from actors to location managers to production assistants.
Next step: Maulsby and Simon give the production team a D.C. tour, showcasing areas that might be of particular interest. Producers return for a final scout after they have a better idea of their budgets, leaving a list of requests that are the joint responsibility of Maulsby's office and the local production manager.
"Before, if you wanted to shoot at 14th and U, you would have to go over to some godawful underground location for a space occupancy permit, fill out this laborious application, get it stamped, take it down to another building, go down three flights of stairs, get some more stamps on it and wait for someone to sloooooowly type it out," says Maulsby. "Film just doesn't work that way."
Mayor Marion Barry created the office in 1979, after a spate of film offices opened in the late '60s and early '70s in cities and states across the country. The first city office, Maulsby said, was created by New York City mayor John Lindsay in 1967. As governor of Georgia in the early '70s, Jimmy Carter founded a state office.
Maulsby admits that a lot of the movies he has helped produce are "real stinkos," but at the same time, he says, his office would "never be in the position of making judgments about scripts." After a moment's rumination, he adds, "But if someone wanted to reshoot 'Birth of a Nation' . . ."
Even Mr. Smith, the orangutan from the television series, receives star treatment from the film office. During a recent shooting, Simon shooed children out of the shooting zone. He cordoned adults behind an invisible line. He silenced tourists and kept their flash cameras at bay.
Added George Manasy, New York production manager for "Mr. Smith": "They arranged to get Mr. Smith a room in the Madison Hotel. Mr. Smith is the star and has to have special treatment, such as an air-conditioned room, so he can be comfortable."