Series is a House of Cards for State Funding Incentives

Apr 14, 2014


The production company behind the popular Netflix series House of Cards has delayed the start of a third season as it waits to see whether the state of Maryland will come up with incentive payments totaling $15 million. 

The show had received $13 million a year in its first two seasons but threatened to leave if Maryland didn’t come up with another $2 million.  The governor proposed taking money from non-profit arts organizations, but the legislature did not agree.  Does that open a door for the state of Virginia or the District of Columbia?

Netflix won’t say how many people have paid to watch its drama about politics, journalism and the evil at work in Washington, but the show, starring Kevin Spacey, has generated tremendous buzz and considerable revenue for the state of Maryland.  That’s why lawmakers agreed to incentives totaling $26 million for the first two seasons, but when the producers demanded more, the legislature said no.  Virginia might have stepped up to offer locations, but the director of this state’s film office, Andy Edmunds, says that’s not happening.

“Certainly it’s a show that we really wanted to land here in Virginia when it was first sniffing around for locations, however the amount of incentive they required was just beyond what we have available in Virginia for one thing, and also we would not be in a position to put that much on one particular show.”

Virginia provides no more than six million dollars in grants and tax breaks to individual productions, and Edmunds says, the state expects something in return.

“With National Geographic when they did Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy here, we worked out an arrangement that as part of our incentive arrangement that  they would produce at their expense a commercial that would advertise Virginia tourism  to inspire people  to come to Virginia and learn more about Civil War tourism on the Killing Lincoln show.”

Likewise, AMC agreed to make an ad and provide free time between episodes of its Revolutionary War Thriller TURN, shot around Richmond, Petersburg and at Plantations along the James River.

“That’s the deal, and we are the only state that’s doing that.”

Virginia’s goal is to build on its history and scenery to promote tourism, which will continue long after production companies go home. While other states offer much bigger incentives, Edmund says plenty of movie makers come here, not only for historic architecture or battlefields but for the coast and the mountains.

“Parts of Captain America we did in Northern Virginia and Captain Phillips we did down in Virginia Beach, and we just finished a movie out in Big Stone Gap with Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick Wilson, and we’re working on another movie out in Chesapeake Bay this summer with Keith Garrity.”

And by limiting the amount spent on big productions, he says Virginia can support some smaller films that really need backing, like Blue Ruin, filmed around Charlottesville, Richmond and Alexandria.

“It’s an unbelievably amazing movie that they made for less than $400,000.  It was purchased by Radius Films, which is part of the Weinstein Company, and it won the Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight  competition.  People are going to hear about this film.  It’s  kind of like No Country for Old Men good.  It’s really, really good. “  

As for House of Cards, Edmund sincerely hopes Maryland can reach an agreement with the producers, since some people who work on the production actually live in Virginia.  Insiders say the show has invested millions in building elaborate sets and it’s unlikely to leave Maryland.  Ironically, viewers assume the action is taking place in Washington, D.C., but the producers have not discussed going there, perhaps because of the bureaucracy that stands between filmmakers and permits.