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YouTube video

Video from the D.C. Film Office, which still seems to be mostly marketing the hard-to-get monuments.

Yesterday, I trucked up to WAMU to chat about making movies in D.C. with guest host Marc Fisher, producer Jonathan Zurer, and D.C. Film Office director Crystal Palmer. Much of the conversation centered on one central question: Why are all those movies “set in D.C.” actually filmed somewhere else?

We’ve already been over one big reason: The sites studios most want to access are all owned by the feds, who don’t particularly care about the economic benefits of having film crews do their thing in the District. The other big reason is the millions of dollars that other states are shelling out to lure movies their way.

Palmer ‘s views seem to be evolving on the second point. After meeting with studio executives last year, she told WAMU: “Incentives was not the number one issue. The issue was more access to federal enclaves, to the monument, to the Capitol. And that was somewhat surprising, because you would think the incentive would be financial, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true in our case.” Last month, she told the Post: “The film business used to be location, location. Now it’s money, money, money.”

It’s conceivable that the District could use some fancy debt financing tool to fund the kind of incentives that production companies have come to expect, counting on manifold returns. But would that do any good?

Towards the end of the segment, Zurer dropped some brutal honesty: Only about five percent of the people who work on the few big Hollywood productions that come to town actually live in the District. “If you hire these people and you give tax incentives to the production companies, you’re not going to get it back ’cause they’re not paying income taxes in the District,” he said.

What this all comes down to is whether D.C. can establish a base of employment in the film industry that would be sustained both through local, independent production and the big flicks that come through town—-as the Examiner‘s dearly departed Freeman Klopott pointed out last year, stable film crews would attract producers who knew they could hire folks here instead of putting up their own staff in hotels.

It makes sense for the District to foster industries that have a natural advantage here, like tech, media, non-profits, even insurance and banking. While we might as well make it as easy as possible to make movies here, with all the structural disadvantages to high-budget film production, I’m not sure it’s a sector that deserves much of D.C.’s attention and resources.

Speaking of economic sectors: The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development said at his oversight hearing yesterday that his staff is working on a comprehensive economic development plan, and expects to deliver it by late fall. So we’ll see if he agrees.