“We chose West Virginia … because of the unmatched access to great locations with minimum hassle,” says Alex D. Aurichio, DP at Moon & Stars Studio. West Virginia’s wide array of location settings include the retired Gothic-style State Penitentiary in Moundsville, used as a Mexican prison in the Nick Nolte film The Warrior, and the famous “River On Demand,” the state’s signature location that enables the Gauley River’s flow to be modulated to suit production needs each November.
The West Virginia Film Industry Investment Act provides up to 31-percent tax credits for in-state spend (27-percent base, plus 4 percent for 10 or more resident crew or talent hires). With the fund set at $10 million annually, there’s a minimum spend of only $25,000 and no caps. “We've had more than two dozen applications within the past two years, and there is no sign of it slowing down,” says Pam Haynes, director of the West Virginia Film Office. Eligible projects under the fund include feature-length films, TV films and series, commercials, music videos and commercial still photography. Indeed, West Virginia has seen the successful completion of many classics over the years, such as The Deer Hunter, Lassie, Fools’ Parade and Matewan, as well as Travel Channel’s Halloween Eve live broadcast of “Ghost Adventures Live.”
Purchases and rentals of tangible personal property and purchases of services directly used in production are exempt from state sales tax (6 percent, excluding food, beverages and motor fuel). This also includes lodging stays at the same facility in excess of 30 consecutive days. Filming on most state-owned properties is fee-free and, depending upon the scope of the production, the West Virginia Film Office is also able to assist with negotiations for soft incentives, like discounts on office space and vehicle rentals, given their established statewide network on many services throughout the region. “Every official we dealt with was extraordinarily supportive and cooperative,” says Andrew Ullman, location manager on The Road, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s literary classic and starring Viggo Mortensen. This shoot utilized yet another of West Virginia’s signature locations also known as “The Road.” Aurichio says, “If Hollywood knew some of these locations existed, they’d be shooting in West Virginia rather than New Zealand.”
Many cities around the world seamlessly blend governmental bureaucracy and creative filmmaking into a mutually beneficial collaboration, and Washington, D.C. is no exception. Politics often lies at the heart of many popular films, and the media frenzy surrounding the key political decisions are often re-enacted in film and TV projects, such as State of Play and “The West Wing.” The nation’s endless capital location options include the well-known front-lawn setting of the White House and the military symbolism of the Pentagon.
The D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development website features a Locations Gallery, in which location scouts can key in words to find a variety of ideal shooting venues, ranging from the majestic historical Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials to apt action settings used in The Good Shepherd and Mission: Impossible III.
The site’s photo galleries are replete with peaceful urban settings typical of any U.S. city or town, and historic town centers like the Adams Morgan and Meridian Park areas that can double as European locations. Recent films and television series shot in Washington, D.C. include Salt (starring Angelina Jolie), How Do You Know (starring Jack Nicholson, Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson) and “The Biggest Loser.” Popular reality TV shows have also taped in the D.C. area, including Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.” and MTV’s “The Real World: Washington, D.C.”
Enacted in 2006, the Film D.C. Economic Incentive Grant Fund encourages the hiring of local production crew and talent while utilizing the city’s famous cinematic features. The Office of Motion Picture and Television development is responsible for deciding what film and TV productions qualify with regards to the tax incentives placed on their associated expenditures. Some of the key incentive highlights include 42 percent of qualified production expenditures taxable in the District, and 21-percent of qualified production expenditures not taxable in the District. This extends to 25 percent of infrastructural investments, 30 percent of qualified personnel expenditures and 50 percent of qualified job training expenditures. To qualify, a production company must spend at least $250,000 in the District for the development, preproduction, production or postproduction costs and not be delinquent in any tax obligation owed to D.C. Incentive grants are subject to availability of funds and are approved case by case.
Virginia’s motion picture incentive package is comprised of two separate performance-based incentive funds. The Governor’s Motion Picture Opportunity Fund provides a grant or rebate to qualified film, television, documentary or commercial projects. This fund has a $2 million appropriation for the biennium beginning July 1, 2010 and qualification is based on several factors, including length of filming in the Commonwealth, jobs created, trainees hired and Virginia goods and services purchased.
Virginia’s new refundable tax-credit program will take effect January 1, 2011, and the funding level is set at $2.5 million. Additional state incentives include an exemption from the state’s 5-percent sales-and-use tax in the purchase of production-related supplies or equipment. This exemption is realized at the time of purchase and can be obtained by simply submitting a form to the merchant. Such an incentive also applies to hotel occupancy by a guest for more than 90 consecutive days, although an exemption from hotel taxes is available for stays of 30 days or more in some localities. (This applies to an additional lodging tax often referred to as a transient occupancy tax.) In most cases, state-owned locations are provided free of charge, in particular the 35,000-foot office space for production facilities in the city of Richmond. The Virginia Film Office (VFO) is able to assist in negotiating other free or low-cost locations that have historically resulted in significant savings for productions.
With over 5,000 photos on their online location library, the VFO shows an immense variety of film settings, including period farm and wharf sets with an authentic sailing ship, dock and warehouses. Virginia even offers a replica of the Oval Office. “Virginia’s exceptional locations have made the state very popular for film, documentaries, commercials and televisions shows,” says Mary Nelson, communications manager at the VFO. “Recent shows include “Eish Safari,” the hit Arab reality show where kids from Dubai come to the United States in a survivor-style setup, and the French documentary Marching Band, examining the Obama election from the perspective of two racially diverse marching bands.”
The Executive Board of the Virginia Production Alliance (VPA) operates out of the key production center of Richmond, uniting businesses and individuals committed to the growth of Virginia film, audio and new media production. With established satellite chapters in Hampton Roads and Charlottesville and one emerging in Northern Virginia, the VPA’s goal is to cultivate film and media opportunities. Recent productions shot in the Virginia include The Box, State of Play, Body of Lies, “Emeril Green,” and the HBO miniseries “John Adams.”