Virginia film, TV industry's economic impact grows

Lights, camera, economic impact! Growing film industry presence in Va. boosts its bottom line

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Lights, camera, economic impact! Virginia's reputation as a great place to shoot TV programs and scenes for such major films as Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is having a bigger impact on the state's bottom line, according to data released Thursday in concert with the screening of the new epic by the award-winning filmmaker.

Last year, Virginia became a living soundstage to several major films and television programs, driving the industry's total economic impact up 14.5 percent to more than $394 million in 2011. The industry also contributed nearly $60 million in state and local tax revenue. State figures also show more than 3,815 jobs were attributed to the industry in 2011, up from about 2,650 jobs in the previous year.

Virginia's allure as a filmmaking haven continues to grow due to the state's incentive programs for film production and its diverse backdrops, Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a statement Thursday. Production companies that film in Virginia may qualify for grants from the Governor's Motion Picture Opportunity Fund, tax credits, as well as other tax exemptions.

The incentives offered by Virginia helped attract filmmakers and television crews to the state, bringing with it big budgets and opportunities to hire local workers.

Crews filming in Virginia also frequent grocery stores, hardware stores, vehicle rental companies, dry cleaners, restaurants, and fabric and antique stores. And in addition to local actors, they hire carpenters, painters, craftspeople, tailors, drivers, film crew, caterers, camera operators and security guards.

For example, "Lincoln," which opens in limited release Friday and then nationwide on Nov. 16, had direct expenditures of $32.4 million and for a total economic impact of $64.1 million, the governor's office said. The film company also hired nearly 1,200 Virginia-based actors and extras and 380 crew members. It also used 23,580 room nights in local hotels and apartments.

The movie, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, focuses on the final four months of Lincoln's life as he fought for passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, and to unite a nation torn apart by the Civil War. It is based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln."

When announcing plans to film here, Spielberg noted Virginia's rich historic legacy and period architecture made the Richmond and Petersburg areas the ideal locale for the movie.

Crews filmed on locations throughout the area, including the Capitol Square in Richmond, which was transformed to serve as troop encampments, various interiors and exteriors of the time period, as well as a full-sized replica of part of the White House and the site of Lincoln's second inauguration at the Capitol.

"Lots and lots went into it. ... That was a major undertaking," said Richard Blankenship, who served as construction coordinator on the film and has a local company that works on sets for movies, TV shows, commercials and plays. "When you see it in the movie with all the people, it's dead on."

Blankenship said the industry is growing and Virginia is getting better at competing with other states for projects.

Numerous other projects used sites throughout Virginia for films, including Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" and "Argo," directed by and starring Ben Affleck. Both of those films were shot at locations in northern Virginia. TV shows filmed last year included "Moonshiners" for the Discovery Channel, "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" for the Food Network, and "Who Do You Think You Are?" for NBC.


Michael Felberbaum can be reached at

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