While taping wrapped up last week for the CW television pilot “Body Politic,” featuring “Friday Night Lights” starlet Minka Kelly, producers and local film boosters scrambled to keep the show filming in Richmond during the regular season.
In the pilot, Kelly co-stars as Hope, who moves from Michigan to Washington to work as an aide for the attorney general (Tim Matheson), who's also her father.
Networks usually decide which shows they'll pick up for the season around May 15, says Andy Edmunds, location manager for the Virginia Film Office. While Richmond offers a low cost of living and proximity to D.C., where the show is set, Edmunds says the state lags behind others with incentives to bring productions here in an increasingly competitive climate.
Pennsylvania — a state Virginia competes against because of similar topography and architecture — set aside $75 million in film incentives last year compared with Virginia's $200,000. With the number of entertainment channels exploding, Edmunds says, “production jobs are like the manufacturing jobs of the future.”
Without public financing as a carrot, Edmunds says, he'll be working with the producer to find other goodies such as free office and building space, free police protection for traffic control and film-industry oddities such as the use of a municipal water truck for spraying down roads for better color contrast onscreen. “They always want the roads glistening,” Edmunds says.
“Body Politic” producer James Spies has a long history with Richmond, using the city as a stand-in for Washington in several previous projects including the 2000 political drama “The Contender,” TV shows “Capital City,” “Commander in Chief” and “In the Line of Fire,” in which Richmond played itself.
In Richmond on Monday, having a late lunch at Kitchen 64 with Edmunds, Spies says he'd like to keep “Body” filming here.
“I think [Richmond] would be everyone's first choice given the way the city looks,” Spies says. “We just have to make everything else around that work as far as the numbers.”
“A series is a big catalyst” to laying the foundation for a more permanent film-production industry in Virginia, Edmunds says. He estimates that landing a series could spur an economic impact of between $30 million and $40 million a year.
The issue has garnered increasing attention of late and has even become a gubernatorial campaign issue. Democratic hopeful Terry McAuliffe's recently released business plan advocates a cash refund of 20 percent of the purchasing and payroll budget to any motion picture produced in the state, increasing support for college film programs and making state office space available for movie sets and administrative work. Presumptive Republican nominee Bob McDonnell mentioned film incentives in his campaign kick-off speech last week.
“That's good,” Edmunds says of the political interest. “They're all getting the message.”