Reprinted from Variety, June 14, 1978
THE NATION'S capital was largely ignored over the decades by the motion picture industry for location filming, while local production has been nonexistent.
Then came Watergate.
The drama that surrounded President Richard Nixon's fall from power awakened filmmakers to Washington's storyline potential, and the result has been a blossoming business for theatrical and television features. "Three Days of the Condor" and "All the President's Men" lead a parade that extends to 20 films for theater and TV that have done location shooting in Washington, and the list is growing.
Most recently, Universal's "The Senator" has used Washington and Baltimore for location, and Sophia Loren was here for Michael Winner's "Firepower." The city will play host this summer to MGM's "Hide in Plain Sight" with James Caan and ABC Circle Film's "Ike" and later to Ed Friendly's "Back Stairs at the White House" and a Paramount miniseries, "Swiftly."
When added to "F.I.S.T.," "Hair," ABC's "Washington Behind Closed Doors" and numerous other projects, Hollywood has pumped $5 million to $6 million into the local economy during the past two years.
Not surprisingly, such activity has finally awakened several city leaders to the capital's film business potential, and the chief obstacle facing filmmakers who want to work here is a bewildering amount of red tape involved in clearing use of federal and city property. In the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, there are 22 jurisdictions that control property that could be used for location shooting, each with its own set of rules and regulations.
On Capitol Hill, for example, commercial film ventures are barred from filming inside hearing rooms (although "F.I.S.T." bent the rule a little), while Senate and House rules committees must give okays for outside shooting in their areas. Cross the street to the Library of Congress or other turf and the U.S. Park Police must be consulted, or the municipal law.
Meanwhile, the Park Police prohibit use of firearms on park property (which would prevent shootout scenes in Lafayette Park across from the White House), and the White House grounds are completely off limits (although the "Eleanor and Franklin" team did succeed in getting a shot of a car passing just through the gates).
What's more, unlike most cities that hand over their keys to Hollywood visitors, Washington's bureaucrats are unimpressed with the frequently used elbow tactics of show business. For example, the team from "Billy Jack Goes to Washington" apparently forgot the meaning of the word "tact" and wound up back on the West Coast after ruffling many feathers here. Similarly, undiplomatic tactics of the Universal crew of "The Senator" have won few friends here, and as a result most of that picture's location work has been shot in Baltimore and Annapolis.
Responding to these and other problems, one city councilman at the urging of labor unions has proposed legislation to create a one-stop film office in the city government to help filmmakers plod through the bureaucracy. Hearings on the measure are expected to be held this year.
In another upshot of the industry's needs, a pair of young filmmakers recently formed Triumvirate Productions, a prospering location management service that during the past two years has handled almost every film project to come to town. Owned by Stewart Neumann, 24, and Dave Siegel, 22, the firm has developed a rapport with all of the jurisdictions to help speed projects in and out of town. Hotel reservations, catering, talent and other location needs are also handled by Triumvirate, which has relied on word-of-mouth to find its niche.
"Contrary to popular beliefs, Washington is not a difficult town to film in," explains Neumann, who claims that the ingredients for success here are diplomacy and advance planning. "You simply can't leave anything to chance like you can in other cities."
He insists that when handled properly, all agencies have been extremely cooperative to production units, and as a result he has been able to obtain desired scenes in government office buildings overlooking the Capitol and other nifty spots for Hollywood's new realism trend.
The biggest problem is overcoming gaffes from tactless film crews the next time he needs clearance for a particular area, Neumann says. He said it took him three years to build the trust of government following brash tactics of the crew from "Three Days of the Condor," while the Library of Congress has justifiably turned obstinate after a cameraman recently fell through a ceiling onto the desk of an unsuspecting researcher. "He was in an area where he had no place being," says Neumann.
As for local production, D.C. has seen some activity in recent years but can count no dramatic successes to date. The International Film Consortium, a production firm headed by exhibitor Ronald Goldman (son of National Assn. of Theater Owners president Marvin) has cranked out four exploitation pictures. Included are "Sweet Jesus Preacher Man" with MGM in 1971 that grossed $3 million, "Black Gestapo," a 1974 film that grossed $1.5 million, and "Brotherhood of Death," a 1976 Cinema Shares release that made about $1 million. All were shot within budgets of $150,000.
This summer Goldman expects to release "Don't Call Me Boy" with Ron O'Neill and Sheila Frazier.
Another local producer, Sheldon Tromberg, has two releases under his belt - "Teen-Age Graffiti," released by Allied Artists, and "The Redeemer," released by Dimension Pictures.