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Excuse us for sounding jealous, but Southern California can really seem to have it all. Today’s weather in downtown Los Angeles—-if there is such a thing—-is a balmy, low-humidity 75 degrees. (The weather here today is too depressing to print.) Last weekend’s “Carmageddon” came and went with not a bang but a whimper, while highway construction in the DMV seems to be an eternal struggle.
And yesterday, they even got our mayor and film commissioner.
While visiting Los Angeles for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Vince Gray visited several Hollywood studios. You know, to see if a Jaws attraction like the one at Universal Studios would be an appealing addition to the Anacostia waterfront.
Kidding. Film office spokeswoman Leslie Green says Gray, along with Office of Motion Picture and Television Development director Crystal Palmer, met with executives from several studios and production companies. The mayor also addressed a lunch for the assembled mayors sponsored by the Motion Picture Association of America, during which he promoted filming in the District to the film industry representatives in the room.
But recent months the competition between D.C.’s film office and those of neighboring states has been heating up, largely based on generous incentive packages offered to visiting productions. Perhaps the best known example is Veep, an upcoming HBO series about a female vice president starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The show, though set in Washington, will be filmed almost entirely in Baltimore after the Maryland Film Office offered the producers about $1 million in tax breaks and credits along with free studio space. In return, the pilot episode alone is expected to inject $6 million into the Maryland economy. D.C. has picked up a few new television series, too, notably Georgetown, a political soap from Gossip Girl creator Josh Schwartz, and Potomac Fever, a reality show about young professionals in media and politics produced by Rob Lowe.
Since returning to the office she led for two decades in January, one of Palmer’s goals has been to overhaul its incentive program to make it more attractive to productions considering filming here. At a D.C. Council budget hearing in May, she cited the example of the 2009 film State of Play, which spent $7 million in Washington but received only $200,000 in tax breaks. Beyond adding financial enticements, Palmer also told the Council that face time with elected officials helps curry favor with studio bosses. Gray’s Hollywood excursion yesterday appears to be that kind of overture.
Following the MPAA lunch, Green says, Gray and Palmer met with representatives of several Hollywood studios and production companies.
One of Gray and Palmer’s main talking points in their meetings yesterday was the revenue generated by Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a Paramount Pictures movie that filmed in Washington for a week last October. During that time, the film office says, the production spent nearly $2.5 million on hotel rooms, vendors, and on-set jobs for about 180 locals.
Also making the trip was At-Large Councilman Vincent Orange, who, as chairman of the newly-created Small and Local Business Development Committee, oversees the film office.
UPDATE 4:15 p.m.: In private meetings following the MPAA lunch, Gray, Palmer, and Orange visited a few studios to promote television production in the District. They also met with CBS to discuss the possibility of filming scenes for the military procedural series NCIS, Green says. They also met with Netflix, which is branching into original programming with House of Cards, a political thriller produced by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey.
The three D.C. officials also sat down with HBO to discuss the possibility of basing more of Veep‘s filming in Washington. Green says the face-to-face meeting greatly improved the likelihood of that happening, based on an HBO executive telling Gray and Palmer that their visit “clearly shows D.C. is engaged more than ever in attracting production.”
“Episodic television brings more jobs for longer amounts of time,” Green says.
During the CBS meeting, the NCIS producers told Gray, Palmer, and Orange they would be more likely to shoot in Washington if the film office’s incentive program is enriched. Palmer is planning to propose revisions to the District’s menu of tax breaks and other benefits for film crews before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, Green says, though which film incentives will be enhanced and by how much are still unclear at this point.
“We have to be creative,” Green says.