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Wednesday, 27 July 2011 13:09

Capturing Footage in Capital Central

Written by  Nathan Hoturoa Gray
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It’s been a busy year for the Capital Region’s filmmaking communities. P3 Update takes a look at the triumphs of West Virginia, Virginia and Washington, D.C. and all the incentives that lure them to this region while impacting the economy in 2011.

WEST VIRGINIA

With classics like The Deer Hunter under its cinematic belt, West Virginia has always been blessed with a wealth of spectacular location options. The state was recently utilized by the production company Science Fiction for a threepart web series featuring Bear Grylls, a former SAS soldier. Key locations included the Canyon Doors section of the Gauley River, Summersville Lake’s Long Point Trail and Kessler private airport in Lansing.

In the Degree Men "Chain of Adventure" web series, Grylls accepts challenges from NFL Player Mark Sanchez, NBA Star Kevin Durant and legend Skateboarder Tony Hawk. “For the Gauley River segment, Science Fiction took advantage of an incentive promoted by the West Virginia Film Office (WVFO) known as River On Demand,” states Jamie Cope, WVFO location services manager. Here the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offers WVFO clients the opportunity to request increases or decreases in water flow during certain times of the year.

Cope boasts of the recent launch of WVFO’s online locations library powered by Reel-Scout, which is a searchable library that contains more than 19,000 images of diverse locations. “Each image is categorized by type and keywords to help prospective clients search myriad ways for a perfect location,” notes Cope. It also offers interactive mapping through Google and live weather data through the Weather Channel.

WVFO Director Pamela Haynes muses about the state’s recent productions. “Super 8 is the largest motion picture to ever film in West Virginia, which certainly was the highlight of 2010,” she says. After considering locations in numerous other states and being sold on the competitiveness of the West Virginia Film Industry Investment Act, Paramount Pictures chose Weirton for J.J. Abrams’ much-anticipated movie. The film is set in the late 1970s, so the streets of Weirton and other locations throughout the Northern Panhandle were turned into the fictional town of Lillian, Ohio for several weeks of filming.

The West Virginia Film Industry Investment Act provides up to 31-percent tax credits for instate 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 are no caps and a minimum spend of only $25,000. Eligible projects under the fund include feature length films, TV movies and series, commercials, music videos and commercial still photography. Purchases and rentals of tangible personal property and purchases of services directly used in production are also exempt from state sales tax (6 percent), excluding food, beverages and motor fuel. Lodging stays at the same facility in excess of 30 consecutive days are exempt from state tax (6 percent) and local taxes (this varies by region). Furthermore, filming on most state owned properties is fee-free.

“A few high-profile productions that filmed in the state in 2009 also had premieres in 2010,” states Haynes. The 20th Century Fox film Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington, had domestic box office returns of over $80 million, while the ABC reality show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” won high ratings and an Emmy Award. “2011 is showing signs of another opportunity- filled year,” Haynes enthuses, “and a new industry relations coordinator position has been added to the Film Office focusing on workforce retention, growth and business infrastructure development, which is also very exciting!”

VIRGINIA

“Virginia is developing an exciting and vibrant independent film community because of the exceptional cinema training programs available and the state’s incentive program that targets independent films,” says Mary Nelson, communications manager for the Virginia Film Office. Virginia also has an exceptionally strong professional organization. The Virginia Production Alliance (VPA) has been instrumental in securing incentive funding for Virginia productions as well as providing advocacy, networking and professional development opportunities for its members. “Our long association with Richmond’s creative community has convinced us that we enjoy exceptional production resources right here in Central Virginia,” says Mark Remes, account executive for BES Studios and former president of the VPA.

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 that began in July 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 took effect January 1, 2011 with the funding level 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. Stays in a Virginia hotel or motel will be exempt from the state’s lodging tax on the entire stay after 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.

This year, Virginia has two exceptional new facilities that have just become available for filming. The historic Fort Monroe is a one-ofa- kind location in Hampton that offers a wide array of disparate locations, including a six-sided 17th-century military fort, miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline, a lighthouse, warehouse space,  a marina, underwater tank, situation and courtrooms, and residential and commercial buildings of several periods and architectural styles. Also newly available is the James River Correctional Center, a vacant prison facility on 1,200 acres of land near the city of Richmond. Established in 1896, the prison contains both old and modern buildings.

Recent productions shot in Virginia include the TV movie Unanswered Prayers, based on the Garth Brooks hit song of the same name. “It was one of the very best work experiences I have had in 55 years of performing,” says Patty Duke, one of the film’s stars. Several independent films also shot in the state, including Kalamity, Lake Effects and For the Glory, while Clint Eastwood shot scenes for his upcoming feature biopic J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. “With the help of the Virginia Film Office and Mother Nature, our filming in Virginia went very well,” says J. Edgar Producer Robert Lorenz. “We’d love to find more to do there on a future project.”

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Many cities around the world blend governmental bureaucracy and filmmaking creativity in a mutually beneficial fashion — and Washington, D.C. is no exception. Politics lies at the heart of most major audience interests, and the media frenzy surrounding key decisions of the day are often re-enacted in film projects and television series alike. From a vast number of productions utilizing the front lawn setting of the White House to the myriad of terrorist plots employing the military symbolism of the Pentagon and Lincoln Memorial, there’s no end to the useful location options offered by the nation’s capital.

Crystal Palmer, director of the Washington, D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, states that production is on the upswing in 2011 with five television pilots are filming on location along with scores of reality- based TV shows and documentaries produced by National Geographic, BBC, Discovery and ARTE Television. Recent shoots include Bravo’s “Top Chef,” Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and TLC’s “DC Cupcakes.” “Major films also shot in D.C. include Paramount’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Warner Bros.’ J. Edgar,” adds Palmer. The District was also featured nationwide on “The Motown Sound: In Performance at the White House” for PBS and Black Entertainment Television’s “BET Honors,” which recognizes the contribution of African-Americans in media, government, education, entertainment and business.

Enacted in 2006, the Film D.C. Economic Incentive Grant Fund encourages the hiring of local production crew and talent while utilizing the multitude of cinematic features on offer. The Office of Motion Picture and Television Development is the body responsible for deciding what film and TV productions qualify with regards to the tax incentives placed upon their associated expenditures. Some of the key incentive highlights include 42-percent off qualified production expenditures taxable in the District and 21-percent off qualified production expenditures not taxable in the District. This extends to 30-percent off qualified personnel expenditures and 25-percent off infrastructural investments as well as 50-percent off 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.

“Plans are underway for the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development to create a comprehensive workforce training program for District residents working alongside local community colleges/universities, non-profit organizations and industry businesses to build specific skills conducive to long-term, sustainable careers,” Palmer explains. “We are also elevating the profiles of our filmmaking talent with enhanced social media efforts and the promotion of new initiatives like ‘Filmmaker of the Month,’ ‘One City Location of the Month’ and a ‘Best of Film’ competition in partnership with SnagFilms.”

It looks like all three Capital Region states are working hard to attract features to their highly prized locations while ensuring that solid systems are set in place to encourage and promote local filmmaking talent in both the domestic and international arenas.

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