“This is one of the great money shots in D.C.,” says Latenser, who was here scouting angles for “Veep,” a new HBO series that hopes to add Julia Louis-Dreyfus to the list of those filmed at this spot off First Street NW.
Directors love this angle not so much for aesthetic reasons as legal ones. It is as close as they are allowed to get to the Capitol itself. So Latenser and others in the D.C. film community were horrified to learn last month that Congress had quietly lifted control over this easternmost patch of the Mall from the U.S. Park Service, which is known as a film-friendly agency, and given it to the Capitol Police, which is not.
“The answer from the Capitol is always absolutely no,” Peggy Pridemore, another D.C. location manager, whose local credits include “Wedding Crashers,” “Night at the Museum 2” and “Forrest Gump.” “My entire industry was afraid we are going to lose that special spot to film the Capitol building.”
The prospect of giving up their beauty shot of the D.C. icon comes at a bad time for the city’s film industry. Even as Washington story lines are enjoying a boom in movies and television, the nation’s capital is losing more and more of the actual location work to other cities.
No matter how much art directors crave Washington’s majestic vistas, they quickly run into twin deal-killers: Filming in the security-obsessed federal core has become a hair-pulling hassle, and the District government lacks the money to compete with sweetheart incentives from other locations.
Baltimore, in particular, is eating the District’s popcorn. Thanks to Maryland’s generous tax-deferral program for film projects and aggressive courting of producers, at least three recent Washington-set stories are using Charm City as a stand-in. They include “Veep”; “Game Change,” a coming Sarah Palin flick from HBO; and “House of Cards,” a political drama that will mark Netflix’s first foray into original programming.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Crystal Palmer, director of the District’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, of the spate of other locations doubling for the District. “We have a two-fold problem. The first question they ask is ‘Do you have an incentive program?’ The second is ‘Can I film inside the U.S. Capitol?’ We basically have to say no to both.’ ”
Seeing Baltimore’s Tremont Plaza Hotel stand in for Senate offices, as it does in “Veep,” is more than an annoyance for District officials. A feature-film crew can spend up to $500,000 a day on location. In all, the D.C. government estimates that the commercial filming it didattract brought $20.5 million into the city last year. “I think we could have doubled our business easily,” Palmer said, if so many productions weren’t outsourced to other locations.