Bureaucracy Killing DC’s Movie Industry

The DC government's incompetence knows no bounds.

DC is attractive to the movie industry only because it has a couple of famous buildings. A new move will make it nearly impossible to film said buildings.

WaPo (“Filming movies in Washington just got harder“):

John Latenser doesn’t want to lose his dome.

The Bethesda-based location scout was standing last week on one of Hollywood’s favorite spots in the District, a sliver of pavement at the edge of the reflecting pool with the U.S. Capitol looming just so over his shoulder — as it has loomed over Sean Penn, Aaron Eckhart and various Transformer robots.

“This is one of the great money shots in D.C.,” says Latenser, who was here scouting angles for “Veep,” a new HBO series that hopes to add Julia Louis-Dreyfus to the list of those filmed at this spot off First Street NW.

Directors love this angle not so much for aesthetic reasons as legal ones. It is as close as they are allowed to get to the Capitol itself. So Latenser and others in the D.C. film community were horrified to learn last month that Congress had quietly lifted control over this easternmost patch of the Mall from the U.S. Park Service, which is known as a film-friendly agency, and given it to the Capitol Police, which is not.

“The answer from the Capitol is always absolutely no,” Peggy Pridemore, another D.C. location manager, whose local credits include “Wedding Crashers,” “Night at the Museum 2” and “Forrest Gump.” “My entire industry was afraid we are going to lose that special spot to film the Capitol building.”

The prospect of giving up their beauty shot of the D.C. icon comes at a bad time for the city’s film industry. Even as Washington story lines are enjoying a boom in movies and television, the nation’s capital is losing more and more of the actual location work to other cities.

No matter how much art directors crave Washington’s majestic vistas, they quickly run into twin deal-killers: Filming in the security-obsessed federal core has become a hair-pulling hassle, and the District government lacks the money to compete with sweetheart incentives from other locations.

Baltimore, in particular, is eating the District’s popcorn. Thanks to Maryland’s generous tax-deferral program for film projects and aggressive courting of producers, at least three recent Washington-set stories are using Charm City as a stand-in. They include “Veep”; “Game Change,” a coming Sarah Palin flick from HBO; and “House of Cards,” a political drama that will mark Netflix’s first foray into original programming.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Crystal Palmer, director of the District’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, of the spate of other locations doubling for the District. “We have a two-fold problem. The first question they ask is ‘Do you have an incentive program?’ The second is ‘Can I film inside the U.S. Capitol?’ We basically have to say no to both.’ ”

I get that has very serious security concerns. Then again, so does New York, which seems to manage. Of course, New York gets to manage its own affairs in its own interest.

Correction: I initially read the story as a transfer from the Park Police to the DC Metro police rather than the federal Capitol Police. The headline and lede have been changed accordingly.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. When I first read the headline I thought the post was going to be about some boneheaded move by DC comics vis-a-vis their movie franchises.

  2. Keith says:

    Just a small quibble. From the article, it doesn’t appear to me that this was driven by the local DC government as much as it was by the Feds. My understanding is that the DC local government doesn’t have much say in what parts of the Capitol building and other high profile areas are on or off-limits to films.

  3. John Burgess says:

    @Keith: I dare say that for most, ‘DC’ equates to ‘the Feds’. It’s only those who live in or near to the District or who have dealings with the local government, who find ambiguity.

    Here, the Federal DC is at odds with the local DC. And you’re absolutely right: the Feds don’t care much at all about DC’s local government and its wishes.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Keith: @John Burgess: Right. I actually misread the report the first time.

    The problem is that it’s gone from the Park Police, whose main charge is to keep tourists safe and happy, to the Capitol Hill police, whose job is to make Congressmen feel even more important than they already do. The DC Metropolitan police, whose job is to protect those who live in the city, are not involved here.

  5. ChrisB says:

    @John Burgess: Yes, but when the headline accuses “DC” of incompetence, it’s pretty clear it’s the local government that’s (inaccurately) meant. Probably should be changed.

  6. 11B40 says:


    With apologies to whoever it was that wrote the song “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You”, we have morphed into the age when “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Guards You”. Geez, and usually the Feds managed their responsibilities so well … federally.