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Filming in and around the nation’s capital

The Capital Region is bustling with filming activity.

By Cory Sekine-Pettite

[Clockwise from Left]
Science + Fiction filming in the New River Gorge for Degree Deodorant commercials, “Degree Men Chain of Adventure Challenge.” | Photo: West Virginia Film Office
A 32-mile ride through scenic mountains of Allegany County aboard a 1916 restored Balwin Steam Engine and vintage diesels. | Photo: Maryland Office of Tourism
A backlot just outside Richmond, Va. | Photo: Kent Eanes
Postcard Washington, D.C. The Washington Monument. | Photo: Destination D.C.

Our nation’s capital and the three surrounding states – Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia – that make up the Capital Region have been bustling with filming activity. Dozens of movie and television productions are currently underway or have just wrapped, including programs for HBO, USA and NBC, a Spielberg film, and an original series for Netflix.

The cast of HBOís Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. | Photo: HBO/Bill Gray
The cast of HBO’s Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. | Photo: HBO/Bill Gray

Maryland is America in miniature

Maryland’s diverse and iconic scenery and architecture are attracting major film and TV productions. And the state’s incentives program doesn’t hurt either. Productions are attracted to the state in many cases because it can stand in for Washington, D.C., but also provide quaint small towns, thousands of miles of coastline, rolling countryside, and mountains – all just a short drive away. It’s “America in miniature” as the saying goes.

For example, HBO’s new hit comedy series Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the vice president, recently wrapped its first season of filming in the state and will be returning soon to start production on the second season. The show centers on former Sen. Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus) who finds being vice president of the United States is nothing like she expected and everything everyone ever warned about.

Baltimore harbor
Baltimore Harbor

Another recent HBO production that filmed in Maryland was the movie Game Change, which chronicled the McCain/Palin 2008 presidential campaign. The movie was filmed principally in Baltimore. Presently filming in the state is the first season of the Netflix series, House of Cards, which is a political thriller being produced and directed by David Fincher and stars Kevin Spacey (also a producer).

But don’t peg Maryland as just a place to shoot politically themed film and television. Feature films of a different sort currently underway, or recently completed, in Maryland include Better Living Through Chemistry, starring Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell; LUV, starring Danny Glover, Roc Dutton and Common; and Jamesy Boy, starring James Woods and Ving Rhames.

Director Trevor White (far right) oversees a scene on the feature film Jamesy Boy, which shot in Maryland and stars James Woods, Mary Louise Parker and Ving Rhames.
Director Trevor White (far right) oversees a scene on the feature film Jamesy Boy, which shot in Maryland and stars James Woods, Mary Louise Parker and Ving Rhames.

Certainly, part of the attraction of filming in the state is the refundable tax credit of 25 percent for feature films and 27 percent for a season of episodic television. The state’s incentives program mandates that 50 percent of principal photography must take place in state, and there must be at least $500,000 in qualified spend. (For additional details, visit marylandfilm.org.) Of course, the real attraction is the state’s varied landscape and architecture. According to the Maryland Film Office, the state has an extremely wide variety of geography and architecture that spans three centuries. Locations there have doubled for countless cities, states and counties, from scenes set in present-day New York City to Paris in the 1800s. Additionally, the film office says the state boasts experienced crews and an actor base, delivering strong film support services.

Hallmark Movie Channelís Lake Effects movie was shot at Smith Mountain Lake Va., and recently aired on the network. | Photo: Virginia Film Office
Hallmark Movie Channel’s Lake Effects movie was shot at Smith Mountain Lake Va., and recently aired on the network. | Photo: Virginia Film Office

Virginia has it all

Virginia also is an exceptional place to film D.C.-themed projects, the Virginia Film Office says. Look no further than the hotly anticipated Lincoln (Dec. 2012) from Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day Lewis, Sallie Field and Tommy Lee Jones. Many locations in the Richmond area replicate buildings in the nation’s capital, and the development and history of the two areas are linked closely (Maryland and Virginia each carved out territory to form the nation’s capital.). But don’t typecast the state, please.

“We pretty much have it all in Virginia – from the sparkling waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay to the pristine, scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley; Virginia is a filmmaker’s dream come true,” says Mary Nelson, Virginia Film Office’s communications manager. “The state’s heritage spans four centuries, with idyllic rural communities, historic towns, and futuristic 21st century cities. Filmmakers can find pretty much whatever they need near a production center.”

A backlot just outside Richmond, Va. | Photo: Kent Eanes
A backlot just outside Richmond, Va. | Photo: Kent Eanes

For example, Virginia now offers an historic backlot area and a major crew base within 30 minutes of Richmond. Located on 3,000 acres of state-owned riverfront land, the backlot features dirt roads that wind through untouched hills, streams, woods and valleys, as well as access to the James River, with a series of earthworks specifically created for battle scenes. Available without a location fee, the backlot offers privacy in a controlled production environment. Now that we have your attention, let’s talk incentives.

Hallmark Movie Channelís Lake Effects movie was shot at Smith Mountain Lake Va., and recently aired on the network. | Photo: Virginia Film Office
Hallmark Movie Channel’s Lake Effects movie was shot at
Smith Mountain Lake Va., and recently aired on the network.
Photo: Virginia Film Office

According to Nelson, Virginia is a little different in its incentive opportunities. The state incentives includes a grant program, a separate tax credit program and tax exemptions, all of which can be used to create a custom incentive plan tailored to the specific needs of any production. “In addition, film office staff will work with each project to minimize production expenses to ensure that your experience in Virginia is as efficient and cost-effective as possible,” she said. Further details are available on the Film Office’s website at FilmVirginia.org.

Currently taking advantage of this program are the feature film Wish You Well, an adaptation of the book by author David Baldacci, and TV projects such as A Haunting by New Dominion Pictures in Suffolk, Va., and Cold Case by m2 Pictures in Hampton, Va. New Dominion and m2 Pictures really are making a name for themselves, the Virginia Film Office says. M2’s compelling television programming includes FBI Criminal Pursuit, and Drag Queens to name but two. Similarly, New Dominion Pictures also creates and distributes a wide variety of cable television programming.

Other local companies making waves include DreamsFactory and In Your Ear Audio in Richmond. Currently, they are working on a cooperative documentary project with CCTV, the state-run television in China. And Erica Arvold of Erica Arvold Casting in Charlottesville, Va., is “taking her place as a real force in our industry in Virginia,” Nelson said. “In addition to her casting role, she is the chair of the Virginia Production Alliance Charlottesville chapter, and is involved in producing, most recently working as associate producer on Wish You Well.”

Washington, D.C. is working toward offering incentives

The District of Columbia currently does not offer an incentive package. However, the District is planning to conduct a feasibility study to determine the best way for the city to attract production in today’s competitive environment, says Leslie Green, senior communications manager with the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development (MPTD). An investigation into the potential financial return for offering film incentives will be part of this study.

Part of that plan also includes enticing more digital media production companies to Washington, D.C. “There are a number of local production companies in the nation’s capital that are actively involved in digital media and are producing award-winning work,” Green said. “As a result, the District is poised to leverage its creative talent and production facilities to attract more digital media to the nation’s capital.”

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (right) and local producer in front of the U.S. Capitol on the set of NBCís The Firm. | Photo: Government of the District of Columbia
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (right) and local producer in front of the U.S. Capitol on the set of NBC’s The Firm. | Photo: Government of the District of Columbia

Still, there are several notable productions underway or planned for the District, including White House Down (Sony), an action thriller with Channing Tatum, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jaime Foxx about a rogue paramilitary group that attempts a military coup by occupying the White House; Political Animals (USA Network), a political drama starring Sigourney Weaver about the lives of a former president and first lady; All Talk (HBO), a politically and intellectually irreverent comedy/drama from Ben Stiller that revolves around the daily dramas of a Jewish family in D.C.; and the as-yet untitled X-Men movie (Marvel/Sony) scheduled to visit D.C. next year.

Geographically and architecturally, our nation’s capital offers locations not easily duplicated. In addition to the recognizable landmarks and iconic monuments that are unique to the nation’s capital, the city offers diverse neighborhoods such as Adams Morgan, Foggy Bottom, Anacostia, and Georgetown that are cinematically attractive, MPTD says. There also are places in the District that can be used to replicate other parts of the world, such as Amsterdam in the political thriller Body of Lies (2008) or Paris in the drama The Patriot (2000).

MPTD (http://film.dc.gov) also notes the District offers a range of one-stop-shop services that include film and parking permitting; production support and logistics; research and technical assistance; location scouting, community relations, coordination assistance with film festivals, screenings, and other special events; and hotel, restaurant, and transportation assistance.

“We also assist the production companies with navigating the unique and intricate process of securing approval for government services and buildings for location needs,” says Green. “We have a close working relationship with government officials and community leaders, which makes for an efficient process in getting production companies the types of services and locations they need with a minimum amount of red tape.”

Paramountís blockbuster Super 8, filming on location in Weirton, W.Va. | Photo: Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center
Paramount’s blockbuster Super 8, filming on location in Weirton, W.Va. | Photo: Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center

West Virginia features generous incentives and breathtaking scenery

What comes to mind when you think of West Virginia? Mountains? Coal Mines? Perhaps rural farming communities? Well, think again because the state has much more to offer. As the West Virginia Film Office notes, most people would be surprised to learn that, while the state is known as the Mountain State, out of its 55 counties, one – Jefferson County – can actually double for many regions of the Midwest with nearly-flatlands, gently rolling hills, farm lands, and more. Other regions of the state range in elevation from 240 feet to nearly 4,900 feet. There are urban cities with skylines, colonial and other historic small towns, tundra-like plateaus, dense forests, industrial cities and towns along the Ohio River, deep river gorges, large university cities, and much more.

Feature film Doughboy, filming on location in Wheeling, W.Va. | Photo: Flyover Films and Route 40 Pictures
Feature film Doughboy, filming on location in Wheeling, W.Va. | Photo: Flyover Films and Route 40 Pictures

If scenery like that isn’t enticing enough, consider the state’s generous incentives program. As Pam Haynes, film office director told Markee, West Virginia’s incentive program is competitive and easy to maneuver. For every dollar spent in West Virginia above $25,000, a production may be eligible to receive tax credits of 27 percent to 31 percent of the total qualified spend. Importantly, the tax credits are transferable, she said. There are no project caps, but the annual amount of credits available is capped at $10 million (July 1-June 30). There also is no restriction as to the amount of filming that has to occur; one day, two days, two months – it doesn’t matter. Eligible projects include feature-length motion pictures, TV productions, commercials, music videos, and commercial print. Similar to nearly all states with incentives, projects may not contain obscene matter or sexually explicit content.

Stephen David Entertainment filming a cable network mini-series in historic Harpers Ferry, W.Va. | Photo: West Virginia Film Office
Stephen David Entertainment filming a cable network mini-series in historic Harpers Ferry, W.Va. | Photo: West Virginia Film Office

So what’s been filming lately in West Virginia? Random Acts of Christmas by Flyover Films, the filmmakers behind last year’s Doughboy, which just closed the recent G.I. Film Festival; Out of the Furnace, starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, and Woody Harrelson, shot for two days in April at the former WV Penitentiary in Moundsville; Stephen David Entertainment recently filmed in West Virginia for several months for its tentatively titled miniseries The Builders, expected to air on a cable network later this year; and the blockbuster Super 8 from Steven Spielberg shot for several weeks in fall 2010 in the steel city of Weirton.

To aid in your future productions in the state, there are numerous in-state production companies that remain constantly busy, including Image Associates, MotionMasters, Pikewood Creative, Trifecta Productions, and Blackwater Video, to name a few. To see a complete list of companies, and to learn more about the state’s incentives, visit http://wvfilm.wvcommerce.org.

“While West Virginia has a small but skilled crew base, the unique shape of our state reaches into two major metro areas with deep crew access, including Washington D.C./Baltimore, adjacent to the Eastern Panhandle region, and Greater Pittsburgh, adjacent to the Northern Panhandle,” said Haynes.

Paramountís blockbuster Super 8, filming on location in Weirton, W.Va. | Photo: Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center
Paramount’s blockbuster Super 8, filming on location in Weirton, W.Va. | Photo: Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center

 


May/June 2012 Table of Contents


November 8, 2012