By Alexander Chang
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – For Clint Eastwood fans in Virginia, it was a thrill to hear that his latest film, “J. Edgar,” is set in parts of Fauquier and Fairfax counties. But for those communities, there’s a tangible benefit to playing such a supporting role: They’ll enjoy a financial boost from tourism and other economic spinoffs.
The General Assembly recognized the economic value of enticing filmmakers to shoot movies in Virginia during its “reconvened session” in April. Legislators approved a state-budget amendment to add $1.5 million to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Motion Picture Opportunity Fund for the 2012 fiscal year.
That means the fund will have $3 million to provide incentives for filmmakers to shoot in Virginia. Those incentives include an exemption from state sales taxes, an exemption from hotel taxes for stays of 30 days or more in some localities, and grants or rebates for qualified projects, according to the Virginia Film Office.
“For the film office, it’s going to allow us to recruit more projects to Virginia and provide more job opportunities for Virginians,” said Rita McClenny, the state’s film commissioner.
“The money that companies spend on a variety of goods and services, from hotels to transportation equipment and to construction equipment, it will benefit Virginia businesses from a tax collection standpoint and a business opportunity standpoint.”
In 2009, the direct and indirect impact of Virginia’s motion picture and video production industry was about $346 million and supported more than 2,700 jobs in the state, according to Jeff Caldwell, McDonnell’s press secretary.
Caldwell said the films, documentaries, commercials and multimedia productions shot in Virginia contribute to the commonwealth’s economy. They provide job opportunities because companies often hire Virginians for their production teams, he said.
“The main priority of McDonnell’s administration is to spur economic development, and there are many pieces of that,” Caldwell said. “This film industry program is a major one for him because it attracts filmmakers to use the commonwealth as a location for their movies. And that brings investment in jobs, investment in restaurants, and it can provide significant economic development boost for the community in which the films are made.”
McDonnell underscored that point when he announced that Eastwood, the famous actor and director, was shooting his movie about J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI director, in Northern Virginia. The locations included Warrenton and The Plains (both in Fauquier County), Great Falls (Fairfax County) and the cities of Alexandria and Arlington.
“Clint Eastwood is an American legend, and we are thrilled he chose Virginia for his film about the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” McDonnell said in a press release.
“J. Edgar” stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover, who headed the FBI from 1935 until his death in 1972. Also starring are Dame Judi Dench as Hoover’s mother, Naomi Watts as his longtime personal secretary, Ken Howard as the U.S. attorney general, Josh Lucas as aviator Charles Lindbergh, and Armie Hammer as the assistant director of the FBI.
“Virginia is an excellent location for film production with its rich history and natural beauty, and we are working diligently to bring more film production like this to the Commonwealth,” McDonnell said.
The state’s filmmaking incentives come with strict guidelines.
The Motion Picture Opportunity Fund is not intended to cover 100 percent of the Virginia labor costs for filmmakers. In its application, the production company must show how much economic impact the film will provide for Virginia. The company also must have 100 percent of its anticipated financing in place at the time of request.
Besides the Motion Picture Opportunity Fund, the commonwealth also has the Virginia Motion Picture Production Tax Credit program.
To qualify for tax credits, film companies must spend at least $250,000 in “qualifying expenses,” film at least 50 percent of principal photography in the commonwealth and agree to include a “Filmed in Virginia” credit and Virginia logo in the final production.
The Virginia Film Office and Virginia Tourism Corp. are pursing more than 15 active film projects.
Before the budget amendment, Virginia was at a competitive disadvantage because it couldn’t provide filmmakers adequate economic incentives, McClenny said. Consequently, Virginia was losing projects to neighboring states.
But now, McClenny said, Virginia is beginning to see results.
“We have to be competitive with whatever financial deal another state offers, so the incentives will allow Virginia to compete with other states like Georgia, New York and almost all neighboring states.”
On the Web
For more about Virginia’s incentives for filmmakers, see www.film.virginia.org/incentives/incentives.aspx
For a list of films, television programs and commercials filmed in Virginia, visit www.film.virginia.org/about_virginia/filmedinvirginia/2010.aspx