Ever since I heard some enterprising Baltimoreans used pit bulls to try to shake down "The Wire" crew for money, I've wondered: Did the scheme actually work?
In case you missed it, I reported earlier this week that an online travel show visiting parts of Baltimore featured in "The Wire" turned up a tale about the HBO series and a pit bull.
The dog kept barking during filming at the old East Baltimore skate park that served as Marlo's hideout, so somebody with the show eventually gave the owner $20 to take the animal inside. The next time the crew returned to film, there were 15 dogs, all borrowed from friends, family and neighbors with the hope of getting paid to take them away.
"Wire" location scout Eric Bannat told that story on the AV Club's "Pop Pilgrims" video, which you can see here, but didn't say if the shakedown actually worked. I finally caught up with Bannat, just back from a trip to Spain, and here's what he had to say:
"We paid them all off. We kind of said, 'OK, this is a spot we’ve come back to again and again and again.' We said, 'We’ll pay you this time but don’t keep doing this. This is kind of ridiculous.' People were nice about it. They didn’t keep doing it."
That's what qualifies as "nice" in Baltimore: sticking people up just once or twice.
The payoff, incidentally, wasn't a simple matter of pulling a wad of Andrew Jacksons out of wallet.
"HBO, it’s so kind of by the book," Bannat said. "Everybody who got any sort of payment, location fee, they’d have to fill out an agreement and W-9 and put a check request into accounting and wait for the check. ... Otherwise HBO wouldn't reimburse you. There would be no way to track it. ... You still had to get their Social Security number. A smaller indie movie will pay out cash, but by and large they have to track all their expenditures to qualify for certain rebates from the state and that sort of thing."
(Note to entertainment industry: Next time Maryland film tax incentives come up for debate in Annapolis, best not to play up how they connect to street-level payoffs.)