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"When I tell my kids we only had three television channels back when I was their age, they look at me like I'm an alien. Now, the global demand for content is almost insatiable," said Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office. "This is why there are hundreds of film offices worldwide that compete to bring this content manufacturing opportunity into their country, state, province or city." In an interview with NCTA, Edmunds shared what it's like when a big production opportunity—like Showtime's Homeland—comes to the Old Dominion state, and how it touches every facet of the community where filming is taking place.
Homeland's season seven was filmed in Richmond starting last fall through early winter of this year, bringing in north of $40 million to Virginia and making it the "biggest production expenditure the state has ever had in one collection of a production opportunity," according to Edmunds. While a good portion of the crew has been working on Homeland for years, around 60 percent of the crew this past season was local. "Having Homeland here was an extension of our approach to try to attract series television for the ongoing jobs that it could create year after year," said Edmunds.
The production's impact reached hotels, hardware stores, restaurants and included office supplies, labor, extras, and everything in between. "When a production comes to a locality, they touch all parts of the economy. Everything from buying paper clips to renting helicopters," said Edmunds. "They're like super tourists with a payroll."
Virginia offers filmmakers a diverse mix of topography and architecture, as well as a close proximity to Washington, D.C., making the state an attractive place to film, said Edmunds. Richmond is also notably a good place to pose as Washington, D.C.,—which is what it did for Homeland's season seven. It can be complicated to film in the District, making Richmond a marketable location for those purposes. The Virginia Film Office also welcomed an AMC series, TURN: Washington's Spies, which filmed in the state for four years and spent over $100 million in Virginia. Big movies filmed in the state include Lincoln, Loving, as well as parts of films like Argo, Jason Bourne and National Treasure. "Anything with a CIA-connection—we seem to pick up pieces of that here," said Edmunds.
Edmunds touted the strong partnerships the Virginia Film Office has with the local governments and communities to create a film-friendly environment for clients, resulting in repeat customers. "People want to come back to Richmond because they've had a great experience, it's easy to get around and there are a lot of great restaurants," added Edmunds.
However, while the location and excellent customer service are important in attracting productions to the Commonwealth, Edmunds stressed that having a competitive tax credit program—which Virginia does not currently have with only about $6.5 million tax credits per year—would be even more critical to landing future opportunities with filmmakers. "We try to target projects that will have the greatest return on investment for the Commonwealth," said Edmunds. But as an example of the state's unique incentive program, the Virginia Film Office partnered with AMC to produce a commercial promoting Virginia tourism. AMC, which paid for all the expenses, then broadcast the commercial for Virginia tourism throughout a season as part of this unique arrangement—a deal which has never been done in any other state.
"There are a lot of challenges in the competitive landscape. This is such a desirable industry to have. The goalpost keeps being moved as to what it takes to attract such work," said Edmunds. But when a production does take place, especially a series production like Homeland, the ripple effects are felt for a long time. And as for how Richmond residents received the Homeland production moving into their community for several months, Edmunds said there was no shortage of excitement and buzz: "Everybody was into it. The whole community was curious about where they were going to be each week. People are still talking and tweeting about it."