- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2011

Many people are familiar with the notorious horse head scene in “The Godfather,” in which a stubborn Hollywood mogul is strong-armed by out-of-towners with a disturbing surprise.

It’s unlikely that D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray went to such lengths as he met with studio executives in Los Angeles on Thursday to lure their projects to the District - part of a three-day trip to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

City officials are working on ways to attract filmmakers to the District’s iconic landscape, mindful that places as disparate as Baltimore and Toronto have stood in for the nation’s capital in recent movies and television shows.

Film offices in neighboring Maryland and Virginia offer attractive packages, including rebates on qualified projects and tax exemptions. Before his trip, Mr. Gray noted it is important to stay competitive “in an industry where states and cities are offering extremely lucrative incentive programs.”

The District is researching its own incentives model based on other states and industry feedback, but such offerings are “not funded at this time,” said Leslie Green, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development.

For now, the motion picture office touts the city’s talent base, a streamlined city-permit process and its database of local resources for visiting film companies.

There’s plenty at stake. Production activity can generate millions in revenue and create thousands of temporary jobs each year, Ms. Green said.

The agency reported $12.5 million in film and television spending in the District in fiscal 2010.

This year’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” parts of which were filmed in the District, generated an estimated $2.5 million for the city, primarily through hotel bookings and spending at D.C. restaurants and stores, according to the motion picture agency. During its run from 1999 to 2006, the popular TV series “The West Wing” contributed more than $20 million to the D.C. economy and spurred tourism in the District, Ms. Green said.

Film crews’ permit fees enter a fund called the Film D.C. Special Account, according to the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer. It amassed $48,400 in fiscal 2010 and $62,800 for fiscal 2011 through July, and is expected to finish the fiscal year with about $85,000.

On Thursday, Mr. Gray spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Motion Picture Association of America and was expected to meet with people from HBO, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Entertainment, Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox.

Besides the District’s notable landmarks, studios are attracted neighborhoods such as Adams Morgan, Foggy Bottom, Anacostia and Georgetown for their distinct aesthetics, Ms. Green said. Some areas of the District have served as “look-alikes” for other parts of the world, such as Amsterdam in “Body of Lies” and Paris in “The Patriot.”

Mr. Gray has backup with him, notably council member Vincent Orange and Crystal Palmer, the director of the city’s motion picture agency.

Mr. Orange, at-large Democrat, went on the trip as part of his oversight duties as chairman of the newly formed Committee on Small and Local Business Development, his chief of staff said Thursday. He has oversight of the motion picture agency as a result of a recent shake-up of committee assignments on the D.C. Council.

Keeping up with the District’s neighbors is a common talking point for Mr. Orange, who rejoined the council after a special election in April. But the competition is already loading up its arsenal.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a statement in May boasting that Steven Spielberg’s film “Lincoln” will begin filming in his state this fall.

“Veep,” an HBO comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the vice president of the United States, is set in the District. It began filming in Baltimore earlier this year.

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