City Desk

Eleanor Holmes Norton Wants the Capitol to Go More Hollywood


Another D.C. politician is trying to push legislation that would entice television shows and movies set in D.C. to actually film more here. District Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a House bill Thursday that would allow commercial filming on all of the U.S. Capitol's grounds. Currently, such filming is only allowed in Union Square, the area below the west side of the Capitol, or the space west of the Capitol that contains Grant Statue and the Reflecting Pool.

"Commercial films and photographs of the Capitol, the seat of our democracy, are perhaps the best modern vehicles for telling the nation’s story and showcasing its democratic system of government,"  Norton said in her introduction of the bill. "My bill would enable appropriate, permitted commercial filming and photography of the Capitol, and would create economic benefits for the nation, the city, and private business."

While it's not rare for television shows set in the District to film some exterior shots here, programs like House of Cards andVeep and films like Lincoln do most of their principal shooting in Maryland and Virginia, which have generous financial incentives and fewer bureaucratic hurdles for filming permits. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who is running for mayor, has been trying to pump $25 million into an incentive fund to get movies and shows to film in the District. (At-Large Councilmember and mayoral candidate Vincent Orange had previously taken up that cause without success.)

Maryland offered House of Cards more than $11 million in tax breaks to film in the state during its first season. In exchange, the Baltimore Sun reports, the show has contributed $286 million to the economy and purchased goods from more than 1,800 local state vendors during the two seasons it has filmed in the state. (Although, at Baltimore City Paper points out, it's worth being skeptical of that calculus.) But the Netflix show wants an even bigger break, so the state legislature is weighing more incentives to keep the show in Maryland.

Norton's bill doesn't address financial incentives—the bill would simply allow commercial film and photography crews to apply for permits for exterior shots of the Capitol and grounds. The Capitol Police would have the authority to charge a fee to cover any costs incurred.

While that change may be minor compared to the film-incentive arms race waged by states all over the country, it would likely be welcomed by plenty of filmmakers, who for years have had trouble even capturing b-roll of the U.S. Capitol and the city's monuments. (The National Park Service does sometimes grant permits to film, while the U.S. Capitol police are even stricter, troubles detailed in a 2012 Housing Complex column.)

"No policy or security reason exists to justify the limit of commercial filming and photography of the Capitol complex to only one location, Union Square, particularly considering that permits are necessary," Norton say. "People are regularly seen on East Capitol Street (east of 2nd street), where they get a full view of the Capitol building taking pictures, demonstrating how arbitrary it is to limit commercial filming to Union Square."

Screenshot by manybits via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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  • Ward3er

    So let's be clear, DC used to have a soundstage, it's now a supermarket. This soundstage was the largest column-less working stage on the East Coast and even had a 100 x 40 Foot Cyclorama wall and had movies like Dave, Garden of Stone, Peggy Sue Got Married and of course the MTV show where President Clinton's Boxer Shorts or Briefs was asked, which is a funny back story to be told one day cuz it ties to well know newscaster, so what did the District and then Delegate Norton do for this important part of a local production community. They let corruption, greed and DC elected's stupidity get in the way and that is why shows and movie now shoot up in Baltimore.

    PS during this time DC used to rake in bucks for film and TV and we can thank the director Crystal Palmer for helping to kill this goose now leaving us only Postcard production work,