D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange says the D.C. Armory could make a good soundstage as part of renewed efforts to attract film and television crews to the nation’s capital instead of letting Baltimore and far-flung cities act as stand-ins for the city’s distinct neighborhoods and architecture.
He proposed the idea during a wide-ranging hearing Wednesday before the newly formed Committee on Small and Local Business Development, which will explore the competitive nature of the film industry, the infrastructure needed to shoot projects and a proposal to increase the tax on concessions at D.C. movie theaters.
Mr. Orange, at-large Democrat and the committee’s chairman, said the National Guard still occupies the armory, near RFK Stadium, but the facility has adequate parking and its overall space is underutilized.
“Folks would know that we’re serious,” he said.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Mr. Orange have indicated they are eager to attract film projects so the city can receive the associated economic boost that comes with their operations and crews’ needs. In July, they met with studio executives in Los Angeles to tout the District as an ideal location.
Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said producers typically get shots of their actors in front of the Capitol or Washington Monument then leave “because it is significantly cheaper to go to another city to film,” he said, noting the city has to be serious about its incentive package. “You really have to invest money if you’re going to get money back.”
Dozens of witnesses told the committee the District indeed has iconic charm, but the conditions for filming and the project’s bottom line come first.
“With my hand on my heart, I can tell you that there really was a compelling reason to make ‘Texas Rangers’ in Alberta, ‘Chicago’ in Toronto, ‘Cold Mountain’ in Romania, ‘Gangs of New York’ in Rome and a film about the legendary club Studio 54 in, guess again, Toronto,” John Hadity, a former studio executive, told the committee. “In fact, my colleagues and I feel strongly that shooting in an area that does not offer an incentive is, well, irresponsible.”
Crystal Palmer, director of the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, said Canadian provinces took the lead in offering film incentives before New Mexico blazed the trail for several other U.S. states with an “aggressive” package that paid dividends.
She said a lack of similar incentives in the District and the “maze of bureaucracy” among a litany of federal agencies - each with their own permit rules - allow other states to secure “what should be ours.”
“The bottom line is that we can do better,” Ms. Palmer added.
The city is also mulling a way to attract movie goers, specifically east of the Anacostia River.
Ms. Palmer said the eastern wards have gone 25 years without a movie theater to attend, arguing in favor of the mayor’s proposal to increase the tax on cinema concessions by 5 percent to attract a theater east of the river.
Officials say 75 percent of the revenue would be used as an incentive to open the theater and 25 percent would be used to attract film projects to the District.
Josh Levin, owner of the West End Cinema on M Street, said his patrons already complain about a 10 percent tax on concessions, which is the highest in the region.
Increasing the tax, he said, “is not the way to go in my opinion.”