Margaret Carmel | Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The governor’s schedule doesn’t leave much room for watching television, but Terry McAuliffe makes time for AMC’s Revolutionary War series “TURN: Washington’s Spies.” While it piques the governor’s interest because of his interest in the time period, he has doggedly followed and promoted the series because it’s filmed in Richmond.
Nearing the end of filming for the third season, McAuliffe put his public speaking skills to the test in a brief cameo as Gen. Robert Lawson for the show. Dressed in period costume, he only delivered one line and a dark look at Benedict Arnold, but his appearance underscored his support for both the show and the filmmaking industry in Virginia.
To make Virginia a destination for shooting movies and television shows (and to enjoy the tourism buzz they generate), the state government provides grants for productions that film in the state. State Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, is a long-time supporter of the tax credit program. He said it is an important way to grow the state’s economy.
“We need to start looking at film like any other manufacturing industry that we’re trying to attract to Virginia,” Kilgore said.
While Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” created the most buzz with the use of the Virginia State Capitol as a set for Civil War-era Washington, D.C., other productions have brought the magic of the movies to Virginia.
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Over the course of two seasons of “TURN,” the show has received $13 million in grants and tax rebates from Virginia. According to a study by Mangum Economics, “TURN” generates $8 for the Virginia economy for every dollar spent on rebates for filming. Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office, says film production benefits all aspects of the local economy – not just the movie industry.
“When a movie company comes to town, they touch all parts of the economy,” said Edmunds. “It’s not just the jobs of the people who work on the film, but what they buy while they are there.”
Starting with Louisiana in 1992, 39 states now have film tax credit programs. Louisiana has offered unlimited funds for productions, with a 35 percent reimbursement rate (the highest in the country).
While some states are pressing for more funding, others have elected to cut back. Due to steep declines in oil and gas revenue, Alaska chose to discontinue its program. Massachusetts also has debated whether to cut its incentives.
Virginia’s program is growing, but it is still modest compared with other states. Virginia reimburses productions 15-20 percent of their costs. In return, the state requires production companies to create promotional materials for the state. Virginia currently budgets $2.4 million a year for its program – but that would rise to $3 million annually under the new budget proposed by McAuliffe and being considered by the General Assembly.
In a political climate where the two parties often disagree, the issue of subsidizing the film industry in Virginia has bipartisan support.
“Virginia is getting the most bang for its buck out of this policy,” Kilgore said. “For every dollar we spend, we get so much more back because these companies are marketing Virginia.”
In addition to all of the materials purchased and people hired during the shoot, the tourism impact cannot be ignored. In exchange for the grant money, Virginia requires the company that receives the money to produce Virginia tourism commercials featuring the show or film shot here.
“Before and after each episode of ‘TURN,’ a Virginia tourism commercial airs urging viewers to visit our state,” Edmunds explained. “The amount of money in the grant is much less than the price of a commercial production, without the added benefit of the shoot, making it pay for itself.”
Besides “TURN” and “Lincoln,” the new PBS-produced Civil War drama “Mercy Street” was filmed in Richmond and Petersburg. With several million viewers, the state is hoping the show becomes as popular as the PBS drama “Downton Abbey.”
Other period pieces shot in the state include the miniseries “John Adams” and the 1970s-era romantic comedy film “Big Stone Gap,” filmed in Southwest Virginia.
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“Here in Virginia we’ve got a great story to tell,” Kilgore said. “Because of our wide variety of climates, there’s plenty of great places to film movies.”