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Spotlight: Stars Come Out, Align in Capital Region

By Mark R. Smith

The District of Columbia and the three states (Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia) that comprise the Capital Region are hosting film and television productions as diverse as the area’s landscapes. With Washington, D.C. pushing for incentives, Maryland boosting its package, Virginia successfully implementing its program and West Virginia serving up some generous incentive numbers, no wonder the region is attracting the likes of Spielberg – twice! – Eastwood, HBO, Showtime and many innovative indie producers.

  [Clockwise from Above]
Dramatic view of the Iwo Jima Memorial with the Capitol and Washington Monument in the background.

Photo: Destination DC

Fall shows her colors along West Virginia’s Highland Scenic Highway.
Photo: West Virginia Film Office

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor at dusk.
Photo: Maryland Office of Tourism
   

The District of Columbia and the three states (Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia) that comprise the Capital Region are hosting film and television productions as diverse as the area’s landscapes. With Washington, D.C. pushing for incentives, Maryland boosting its package, Virginia successfully implementing its program and West Virginia serving up some generous incentive numbers, no wonder the region is attracting the likes of Spielberg – twice! – Eastwood, HBO, Showtime and many innovative indie producers.

D.C. Works Toward Incentives

Although no incentive package is currently offered in the Nation’s Capital, Crystal Palmer and company are working hard toward that end.

“We’re trying to put together an incentive and rebate package now,” says Palmer, who has served for years as director of the District of Columbia Office of Motion Picture & Television Development (www.film.dc.gov). “We’ll probably come up with some combination thereof. Given D.C.’s home rule as a city [and not a state], we have to put together a package that’s a bit different.”

For instance, “We’re looking at trying to raise money not just through appropriations from the city government, but from grants from foundations and private donations, as well,” she says.

In the meantime, the city is abuzz with various film-related activities.

GVI Documents Gulf Coast Post-Oil Spill

GIVAmong recent work at Washington stalwart GVI (www.g-v-i.com) is a documentary, Crude Justice, produced for the D.C.-based Alliance for Justice. Producer/director John Ringstad took GVI’s crew to the Gulf Coast to illustrate the obstacles that average citizens face in getting compensation by corporations involved in the BP oil spill and ensuing clean up, says GVI president Andy Hemmendinger (see photo).

The doc, hosted by actor Ed Begley, Jr., was distributed via the Internet and within the legal community. GVI shot footage on a Sony PDW-F800 XDCAM HD camera, edited the program on an Avid Media Composer and mixed it in its Digidesign Pro Tools LE suite.

Hemmendinger notes that in the last four months, “almost all of GVI’s clients that had been hanging on to SD production have – finally – made the transition to HD.” With that in mind, GVI bought its second and third HD cameras, another Sony PDW-F800 and a Sony PMW-EX3.

Scenic walkway along Washington’s Georgetown Canal.

Scenic walkway along Washington’s Georgetown Canal.
Photo: Destination DC

“We have a cross-section of production going on in the city today,” Palmer reports, citing parts of the recently wrapped Clint Eastwood FBI film, J. Edgar, set for release in mid-spring, and portions of Transformers 3: The Dark of the Moon, the other big feature feather in the city’s cap. Homeland, a pilot starring Claire Danes, shot in the city and has been picked up by Showtime; another, ABC’s Georgetown, is on the market.

The office is working with Snag Films, receiver of $10 million in funds from a partnership that includes Comcast and AOL, to promote a “best of” film competition for D.C. It’s open to district residents and locally-based production companies.

Double R Continues to Answer NAB’s Call

Double RWashington’s venerable Double R Productions (www.doublerproductions.com), located near Dupont Circle, recently completed the latest edition of a project the company “has been involved with since 1985,” says president and CEO Rosemary Reed. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Congressional PSA campaign gives members of Congress and their families (see photo) the opportunity to tape two PSAs of their choice; they’re distributed free to NAB member TV stations and audio tracks are edited for radio.

For the 12-day production, Double R set up a full HD studio, master control board and two make-up stations in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, then shot footage at the Capitol and Reserve Officers’ Association and Veterans of Foreign Wars buildings. The spots were lensed with a Panasonic AJ-HDX900 camera, edited on an Avid Nitris, closed captioned and Sigma-encoded, then delivered by satellite. This year Double R taped 232 participants, representing 48 states, in 350 PSAs.

The stunning interior of Washington’s Library of Congress.  The stunning interior of Washington’s Library of Congress.  The stunning interior of Washington’s Library of Congress.  The stunning interior of Washington’s Library of Congress.  The stunning interior of Washington’s Library of Congress.  Library of Congress

The stunning interior of Washington’s Library of Congress.

The city has seen indie production, too. “We’re working with John Gann, a D.C.-based filmmaker who runs the D.C. Film Alliance and D.C. Shorts film festival, and Melissa Houghton of Women in Film & Video on promoting indie film production in town,” says Palmer. “We’re starting to provide the same services to indie projects that we provide to the Hollywood crowd, such as location assistance, scouting and research assistance.”

Also in the hopper are talks with a business group that is interested in building a soundstage within the city limits, something they’ve done in three other U.S. cities and abroad, according to Palmer.

While D.C. has other such infrastructure, it’s often unavailable to outside producers. “[Washington-based] BET usually uses its stage for inhouse production,” she notes. “We’re working with the landlord at the [now-closed] Atlantic Video location on a financing package” for a soundstage.

Having such options give D.C. greater potential to become a favored locale for live television programming. “This year we got BET Honors to come back for a fourth year,” Palmer says, “and we hosted PBS when it filmed its tribute to Motown founder Berry Gordy at the White House.”

Shine Illuminates Bloomberg Launch

Shine CreativeRecently, D.C.’s Shine Creative (www.wemakeitshine.com), located in the city’s new Design District, produced videos for the launch of Bloomberg Government, a website that’s “similar to what Bloomberg offers the financial market, just geared toward government actions, legislation, contracting” and more, says Bernardo Alvarez, the company’s creative director.

The effort was, in a word, “complex. It could have been boring,” he says, “but we made it interesting” for agency client Fleishman-Hillard, “by going full-on with the animation” created in Adobe After Effects and rendered at 1080i, then brought into Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD. Audio was designed and mixed on Digidesign Pro Tools prior to the conversion of the animation to web formats.

In the end, Shine created seven videos for the website: one overview and six sections for areas such as government relations, agencies and lobbies (see photo). “The software is the real product, and it allows the user to find info on anything government-related,” Alvarez reports.

Eduardo Sanchez (center) discusses his new film, The Possession, with crew on location around Hagerstown, Maryland.

Eduardo Sanchez (center) discusses his new film, The Possession, with crew on location around Hagerstown, Maryland.

Maryland Reopens Door for Major Productions

There’s good news within Maryland’s production community because of a coordinated effort by the Maryland Film Industry Coalition (MFIC) that resulted in the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 672 (SB 672) – establishing the Maryland Film Production Employment Act law.

It increases the funding available for film and TV production from $1 million last year to $7.5 million for fiscal 2012 (which started July 1). It also changes what had been a discretionary grant program to a plan that allows a qualified film production entity to claim a credit against the state income tax for specified costs.

Producers Races Ahead with Spots, Equipment Additions

ProducersDick’s Sporting Goods promoted National Runners Month by producing a two-spot campaign lensed in Austin, Texas on the ARRI 435 by Baltimore-based Producers (pictured). The spots aired nationally on ESPN and various other outlets.

Both commercials have similar content focusing on “the mentality of runners and what motivates them,” says Rip Lambert, president of Producers (www.producers.tv). They were cut inhouse on an Avid Symphony after film transfer at Nice Shoes in New York. The client may add a third “anthem spot: a tribute to runners and why they run,” he notes.

Recent editorial upgrades at Producers encompass Avid Nitris DX software and 80TB of storage, which complement the addition of Fairlight Constellation mixing desks in its two main audio rooms last year; the latest Pro Tools system for the company’s sound design room comes next.

 

 

Maryland’s Eastern Shore

  Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Photo: Jack Gerbes

The MFIC had been shooting for a package worth $15 million, but the $7.5 million is still a step in the right direction, making Maryland competitive again and hopefully building toward a bright future.

Even before the expansion of the program was announced, there was other positive news on the state scene. Most notable was production of the pilot for Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The show was quickly picked up by HBO, and industry insiders are very hopeful that the initial season’s episodes will be shot in Maryland.

Another HBO project, the original movie Game Change, which centers around the 2008 U.S. presidential election and stars Ed Harris as John McCain and Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, just wrapped.

In addition, Eduardo Sanchez (of the indie sensation The Blair Witch Project) shot his new chiller, The Possession, around Hagerstown in Western Maryland; another indie that lensed this past spring, L.U.V., was written and directed by Maryland native Sheldon Candis and stars rapper Common, Danny Glover and Charles Dutton; it shot in the Baltimore area.

Many observers have felt that with a competitive incentive package Maryland could become a production juggernaut. Often called “America in Miniature” for a variety of looks that span many centuries and cross diverse locations, “It offers directors and producers a multitude of visuals,” says Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office (www.mdfilm.org). He points to mountain ranges; more than 7,000 miles of waterfront, including beach resorts; and quaint fishing villages along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

“We can offer the urban grittiness of The Wire, the bucolic countryside of Runaway Bride, the historic locations seen in Gods & Generals, [or] double as Washington, D.C., for Live Free or Die Hard,” Gerbes adds.

Boni Teams With TV Animal Legend

Boni ProductionsBethesda, Maryland-based Boni Productions (www.boniproductions.com) lensed Jim Fowler (TV animal icon from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom) at his wildlife ranching operation for a sequence for a doc-in-production with the working title, Trailbreakers (see photo).

It features an “amazing two-wheel drive motorcycle” called a Rokon, which Fowler’s lifelong buddy and Rokon founder Orla Larsen nicknamed a “mechanized mountain goat” due to its ability to navigate rough terrain “while not damaging or destroying the environment,” says director/DP Dennis Boni.

The segment also focuses on the people who create, modify and maintain Rokons. It was shot on a Panasonic HPX3700 camera with P+S Technic Pro-35mm adaptor and UniqOptics 35mm Prime lenses. The only additional production toy was a Cam Tram for dolly shots. Boni is still raising funds for the doc; upon completion his company will edit the project in its Apple Final Cut Pro HD suite.

Today, the Maryland’s production community is rolling up its collective sleeves and getting back to work. “We’re really proud of the effort and the ultimate accomplishment” the incentives represent, says Debbie Donaldson Dorsey, MFIC secretary and director of the Baltimore Film Office. She stresses that the incentives are not about “giving money to Hollywood. It’s about a return on investment with a promise of considerable economic impact.

“[The incentives] will bring people here back to work and help support all of the small businesses that provide infrastructure for the industry at a crucial time for the state,” she notes. “It’s a great victory for the film industry in Maryland.”

ACE Gets Ready, Set for Bolt

Atlantic Cine EquipmentBased in Baltimore, Atlantic Cine Equipment (ACE; www.aceeast.com) not only offers the mid-Atlantic region equipment rentals, but also fills the needs of areas beyond. Case in point: trekking to Orlando to shoot a Gatorade spot for LA-based production company HSI, featuring Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Usain Bolt.

“We worked on his events at the summer Olympics in Beijing, so we were a natural to shoot him for the Gatorade spot,” says ACE managing partner Randy Greer, Sr. He and company laid out 150 feet of ACE TRACKrunner HS against a greenscreen on a college track for Bolt’s commercial sprint (see photo). The spot was lensed with an ARRI 435 with the Nettman Stab-C Compact five-axis, gyro-stabilized remote head that tracked Bolt and captured his profile as he shot off the blocks.

“We rent very unique equipment. That’s our whole concept,” says Greer. “We want to create new ways to move the cameras all the time.”

Kayaking in Chesapeake Bay with the New Point Comfort Lighthouse in the background.

Kayaking in Chesapeake Bay with the New Point Comfort Lighthouse in the background.
Photo: Cameron Davidson, Virginia Tourism Corp.

Virginia Welcomes Spielberg and DreamWorks

Some of last year’s news at the Virginia Film Office (www.film.virginia.org) has led, as was hoped, to bigger news in the Commonwealth this year. The incentive program that was established for fiscal 2011 finds Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks preparing to shoot a major production in the state capital of Richmond and in nearby Petersburg.

The Spielberg/DreamWorks team will shoot a film about the 16th president of the United States. Lincoln, (based on the book “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin) goes into production this fall with Spielberg producing and directing; Disney/Touchstone is set to distribute. Lincoln will “likely use the services of Petersburg’s New Millennium Studios, as well as many of Central Virginia’s historic locations,” says film office director Rita McClenny.

McClenny discussed the importance of Virginia’s $2.5-million motion picture tax credit program that, combined with a cash grant program (both refundable), has facilitated increased consideration by the major studios. The minimum spend for the credit is $250,000; for the cash grant (which has no cap), there is no minimum.

RainMaker Answers Audio Questions for GEICO

RainMaker StudiosRichmond audio house RainMaker Studios (www.rainmakerstudios.com) works with major national agencies that represent commercial icons such as Pizza Hut, WalMart and GEICO. The company recently completed soundtracks for several of the latter’s famous TV spots, says senior sound designer Jeff McManus.

Among his favorite GEICO spots (pictured) are those from the “Rhetorical Question” TV campaign, from Richmond-based The Martin Agency, that have been running nationally for the past several months. RainMaker taps its Icon D-Command console with Pro Tools HD 7.5 software, along with Brent Averill vintage Neve and API mic pres, to create the spots’ sound. Monitoring is handled with ATC 5.1 surround speakers.

“I really like working with the creatives at Martin because they let me do my job; GEICO is my favorite client,” says McManus. RainMaker has taken on more work with another Martin account, the U.S. Tennis Association.

In 2010, no major Hollywood production shot in the state, but Richmond hosted a Sony telefilm, Unanswered Prayers, based on the Garth Brooks song of the same name. Three indie features, Lake Effects, Nutcracker, and Alone Yet Not Alone, shot not only in the capital city, but also in Roanoke and the Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.

Other highlights included a variety of TV programs, often originating from Discovery Communications, such as Facing Trauma for Discovery Health and an episode of Paranormal, which airs on The Discovery Channel.

While there were no major discussions about altering the incentive package for fiscal 2012 during the legislative session that concluded in March, McClenny says that she has seen “a steady stream” of applications for the remaining incentive money and activity “continues to be brisk.”

Signs of Success at Studio 108

Studio 108A four-spot campaign for high-end homebuilder Eagle Construction is a recent credit at Richmond’s Studio 108 (www.studio108.com). The concept for “Signs,” based on Eagle’s versatility and high-quality product, features in-ground signs listing various home features (pictured), which a jealous guy from Acme Builders plows over with his truck.

The two-day shoot was lensed on the Canon 7D and edited inhouse on Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD with Adobe After Effects for graphics and color correction via Mac Color. Studio 108 owner Jack Hartmann served as director and editor of the spot, one of a series of four encompassing themes such as quality workmanship, security and eco-friendly features.

Studio 108 just moved its seven employees into a new facility in the city’s Art & Design District that Hartmann says “makes us Richmond’s ultra boutique.”

The state has proven its versatility in terms of locations with its varied topography featuring everything from mountain ranges to farms to beaches. Virginia is well known for “its historic preservation, which motivates many filmmakers to come here for our numerous 19th century, and earlier locales, and backdrops for their productions,” she says, noting the upcoming Spielberg/Disney film.

With the new fiscal year starting on July 1, McClenny is looking ahead.

“We have 15 active projects that we’re working on now, so we expect that we’ll put our incentive resources to full use in 2011,” she says. “We’re looking forward to doing likewise in 2012 and creating job opportunities for Virginia’s crew base, which has stayed busy working in spot, indie and episodic markets.”

MVI Shoots, Post Shoots Migrant Journey Doc in Central America

MVI PostNew at MVI Post (www.mvipost.com) in Falls Church, Virginia is a documentary on the kidnapping, human trafficking and sexual slavery endured by Central American migrants journeying to the U.S. (pictured). Produced with Virginia Wolf, A Bridge Apart was shot in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico by MVI director/DP Frank Maniglia, Jr. on the Sony XDCAM EX1 due to its “light weight and durability” and the necessary “stealthy nature” of production.

He edited the doc on the Avid Media Composer; senior designer Steven Maniglia used Autodesk Smoke and Adobe After Effects to create the open, title sequence and other graphics and maps. The sound design and mix was done by Frank Scheuring on the Fairlight EVO.

MVI Post also finished the online, color correction and surround design/mix for National Geographic Channel’s high-energy Snipers pilot. The company also completed a Star Trek-themed spot for the Social Security Administration (SSA); they previously shot and posted SSA spots featuring TV and music icons Patty Duke and Chubby Checker.

West Virginia’s New Rover Gorge Bridge, featured in the film Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.

West Virginia’s New Rover Gorge Bridge, featured in the film Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.
Photo: West Virginia Film Office

West Virginia Almost Heaven for Filmmakers

There’s big news in West Virginia these days, and it’s because Hollywood came calling – with the much anticipated J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg project for Paramount, Super 8, scheduled to hit the silver screen at a multiplex near you in June.

The film was shot in and around the small town of Weirton (where The Deer Hunter also shot), which is 30 miles due west of Pittsburgh, during a stretch of several weeks last fall, says Pam Haynes, director of the West Virginia Film Office (www.wvfilm.com). “It’s the largest film the state has ever had shoot here in terms of money spent, even bigger than We Are Marshall.”

BES Banks on First Capital

BES StudiosA long-time local industry anchor that’s still evolving, Richmond’s BES Studios (www.besstudios.com) recently produced a :30 spot for First Capital Bank from Martin Branding Worldwide that’s heavy on motion graphics (see photo).

The spot focuses on “the need to keep money and investment in Richmond and not allow migration to other countries, such as China,” says BES executive producer Mark Remes. Senior editor Michael Howell posted the commercial on the Avid DS (which has since been replaced with three Avid Symphony systems) and added graphics in Adobe After Effects. The voiceover and music were handled inhouse with Digidesign Pro Tools.

The new editing systems are just part of the rebranding of BES Television as BES Studios. Two Pro Tools suites are new, as is the logo and website. Additional talent has come onboard, too, including veteran DP Stephen Lyons, BES’s new creative director.

 

 

he upcoming Lionsgate feature, Warrior, shot in Moundsville’s former West Virginia Penitentiary.
 

The upcoming Lionsgate feature, Warrior, shot in Moundsville’s former
West Virginia Penitentiary.
Photo: West Virginia Film Office

As always, incentives played a big role in the decision to shoot in country a famous singer once deemed “Almost Heaven.” The state offers up to 31 percent in tax credits if at least 10 or more West Virginia residents are included in the production (27 percent otherwise). The ceiling is $10 million every fiscal year, with no sunset. “There’s also no project cap, so a production can take all $10 million and we’re done for the year,” Haynes reports.

Aside from Super 8, multiple broadcast and web campaigns for Degree deodorant via production company Science + Fiction that featured NHL legend Mark Messier and Bear Grylls of Man vs. Wild were lensed in state and a reality show about miners for Spike TV, Coal, was shot by Original Productions (of Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers fame).

“There is about $6 million left in the program until the end of the fiscal year on June 30,” says Haynes, noting that in-state production companies take advantage of the incentives as well, such as Bill Hogan’s Image Associates (see profile) for spot campaigns for Massey Energy and the West Virginia Lottery.

IA Productions Plays to Win

IA Productions“You in?” That was the question at IA Productions (www.iaproductions.com), of Charleston, West Virginia where a campaign for the West Virginia Lottery from Fahlgren Advertising/Columbus proved to be the biggest production of the last year.

The “You In” umbrella campaign for instant tickets included :60, :30, :15s and some :10 spots. They featured an actor who pops up in various places – a flower nursery, with a hiker in the woods – asking people, “Are you in?”

Managing member and creative director Bill Hogan used two Sony F950 cameras for the shoots. The spots were cut on an Apple Final Cut Pro HD system in IA’s new edit suite (pictured), “which is available for $90 an hour, much less than a producer would pay in most other places,” he says.

IA also boasts a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter with a Cineflex mount for the Sony HDC-1500 camera. The company furnished production services for the feature Super 8; tasks included ordering costumes, hiring SFX professionals, making arrangements for dailies processing and more.

 

Winter in West Virginia’s Snowshoe Village.
 
Winter in West Virginia’s Snowshoe Village.
Photo: West Virginia Film Office
 

Among the challenges for West Virginia is developing infrastructure. “Like any state, we’re deep in gaffers, grip, camera operators and production personnel. What we need is more 1st and 2nd assistant camera operators, costume personnel and make-up and hair people,” says Haynes. Having large markets such as Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington close by is helpful for sourcing those disciplines.

She believes the long-term answer is working with the state education system to create workforce training programs and infrastructure development, “with the goal being to create a year-round sustainable industry.”

But as far as looks go, West Virginia’s got ’em. “We’re obviously known for mountains, but we have a couple of counties [Hancock, which is near Pittsburgh, and Jefferson, near Harper’s Ferry] that can stand in for the Midwest,” Haynes points out. “In fact, Super 8 is set in Ohio.”

Sweetsong Documents Crisis Evacuation

Sweetsong ProductionsWestern Migration, a public service DVD (pictured) that educates and informs agencies, businesses and residents of West Virginia about how to respond to terrorist threats or attacks, is among recent projects at Sweetsong Productions (www.sweetsong.com) in Parkersburg.

Sweetsong used a Sony HVR-Z1U camera to shoot the video, which was funded by the Citizens Corps, the West Virginia Commission for National & Community Services, The Arc, the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department and The Education Center. The company tapped Adobe Premiere for editing and graphics and Digidesign Pro Tools V. 7 for audio post.

The DVD’s topic is of particular interest because “residents of Washington, D.C., would pass through or evacuate to West Virginia should such a crisis occur,” says Sweetsong owner Roger Hoover. Content includes movers and shakers in the Capital Region’s business, government and homeland security sectors offering important info all residents need to know.