1. EXT. CHINCOTEAGUE ISLAND, VIRGINIA -- DAY
Wild herds of CHINCOTEAGUE PONIES rush across the CHANNEL between the island and the VIRGINIA COAST during the annual run in July. A FILM CREW is on the beach, making a movie about the horses.
Camera PULLS BACK to reveal that the island, the ocean and the beach are all a big SOUNDSTAGE in a warehouse.
The warehouse sits next to a HIGHWAY. ZOOM IN on SIGN beside the road that says, in giant letters:
"WELCOME TO CANADA, EH."
NARRATOR (VOICE OVER)
These are dark days for the Virginia film industry
We see the DESERTED SET in Powhatan of the HBO miniseries "John Adams," the last big production in Virginia, which wrapped up six months of filming in June.
States from Massachusetts to New Mexico have adopted incentive plans to lure production companies across their borders. But in Virginia, incentives are dwindling. And for the first time in many years, there are no movies.
MONTAGE of former film locations across Virginia:
In CROZET, flattened grass reveals the outline of a giant ark used in "Evan Almighty" -- the most expensive comedy ever made. The 60 trees remain, planted in a park by the production team in honor of director Tom Shadyac.
In RICHMOND, the Spaghetti Works, where "Hannibal" was filmed. The JAMES RIVER, where "Cold Mountain" was filmed.
In EASTERN VIRGINIA, site of "The New World" To Mountain Lake in GILES COUNTY, site of "Dirty Dancing." To CHARLOTTESVILLE, site of "Giant." All deserted.
These are the movies that have been made. But there are others still looking for homes. The HBO series "1776" Disney's "Secretariat" the Harrison Ford film "Manhunt" and Spielberg's "Lincoln." These projects are in danger of going elsewhere, though they're all, in fact, about Virginia.
It wasn't always this way
Scenes of busy film sets in Virginia, revealing all the PEOPLE working in FILM, TELEVISION and COMMERCIAL production: about 6,000 people directly working in these fields full time or freelance (according to a VCU Center for Public Policy study), plus 2,500 others whose jobs support media production, VENDORS and so on.
Once there was work here. The great engines of imagination churned out thousands of miles of film, billions of pixels. Then, the Canadians struck.
4. EXT. ICY SHACK ON FROZEN RIVER, CANADA -- DAY
Inside the shack, Canadians are scheming to get AMERICAN FILM COMPANIES to bring productions north, due to the value of the DOLLAR in the 1990s.
America responded! Around the millennium, states began offering financial incentives in the form of tax credits and grants to film companies for bringing productions their way. States like Louisiana, looking to bolster their economies before and after Katrina. States such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Maryland.
5. INT. THE ROUNDHOUSE, NEW MEXICO STATE CAPITOL, SANTA FE -- DAY
GOV. GARY JOHNSON (2002 State of the State Address)
We have passed valuable legislation to allow permanent fund money to be invested in New Mexico companies and films made in New Mexico. Long term, this legislation will have a positive impact on our state.
Although Virginia didn't get fully behind such financial incentives, productions still came. But competition is growing. Today, Pennsylvania offers $85 million in incentives. North Carolina, reportedly, has an unlimited budget. At its best, Virginia was 10th in the nation for filmmaking. Now, of the 38 states that offer incentives, it ranks 37th. Despite this, the Film Office perseveres.
6. INT. VIRGINIA FILM OFFICE -- DAY
Six employees go about their daily business, headed by FILM COMMISSIONER RITA MCCLENNY. We see location manager ANDY EDMUNDS answering a phone. The office, established in 1980, was once a part of economic development. Now it falls under tourism.
Their mission: to help bring in productions by scouting locations. Finding talent and housing. Supplying abundant information for the filmmaking teams. This staff used to rely on their relationships with those production companies to bring in projects.
But now those relationships have started to go south. We were only able to kind of compete if we only had a little incentive. No matter how good our customer service is or our locations are we're not even on the radar anymore.
As long as things are going good, you never really think you have to examine things to see if you're in trouble.
The Film Office is in a bind. Because its employees work for the state, they can't lobby. But it benefits them to have incentives because they'll bring in more business. So the situation is this:
We need the industry to make the case to the government.
So they help provide information to the industry, which in turn must decide a course of action.
The Virginia Production Alliance represents the industry in Virginia, and it created a task force that is appealing to government -- local, state -- to put in a budget amendment for appropriation into the existing fund.
ANNE CHAPMAN, the president of the VIRGINIA PRODUCTION ALLIANCE, sits across a table with a casting agent, as though casting us for a film.
We are autonomous, separate from the film office. We try to be a resource for whatever part of the industry we're in.
Those resources include film screenings panel discussions bingo games and barbecues. But with the desertion of productions in the state, and the hemorrhaging of local production talent, the VPA calls upon its task force to launch an assault on the General Assembly when it convenes in January. Their goal: to get money for the Governor's Motion Picture Opportunity Fund.
CLOSE-UP of a PIGGY BANK sitting in a DIRECTOR'S CHAIR.
Started in 1999, the fund serves as the piggy bank for Virginia's film incentives. According to the production alliance, the $1.575 million invested in it over its life has attracted $118 million from productions working in the state.
In 2006, the fund was allotted $1.25 million. For 2007, its budget was zero. That's why, as of June, the state has lost three films.
7. EXT. BOSTON -- AERIAL VIEW, ZOOM IN TO FILM SET ON A CITY STREET -- DAY
We see director RICHARD KELLY working on set. The Richmond native built his reputation on the cult hit "DONNIE DARKO," and followed that up with "SOUTHLAND TALES," starring JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, DWAYNE "THE ROCK" JOHNSON and SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR (out now, though not in Richmond).
Richard Kelly may be in Boston, but "The Box," is set in Richmond. Richard wrote the film for his hometown, complete with scenes set at Collegiate School and Inns of Virginia. He scouted locations here with Andy Edmunds. But Massachusetts officials offered producers $4.2 million in incentives for the $16 million film.
The director leads his stars -- CAMERON DIAZ, JAMES MARSDEN and FRANK LANGELLA -- around an imaginary Richmond up north.
Meanwhile, across town
Director ROD LURIE works on his set in Boston. He has a lot of Richmond loyalty, having worked on about 10 projects here, including "THE CONTENDER" and the TV series "LINE OF FIRE" and "COMMANDER IN CHIEF."
Unfortunately, Virginia is sort of out of the loop of filmmaking right now. As much as we really love shooting there, it's very problematic now.
It's gotten worse in the sense that Virginia apparently doesn't have the same belief in the economics of having a film come to town. I can't convince financiers to spend 25 to 30 percent more to shoot in Virginia than they would anywhere else.
Rod's just finished shooting a movie in Memphis called "Nothing but the Truth," about a female reporter in Virginia.
Now Memphis can boast that it can double for Virginia or D.C. Furthermore, [Tennessee] incentivizes us to use locals. That then gets more people employed from the local areas. You guys are [only] gonna get the films that must be shot there for whatever reason.
8. DREAM SEQUENCE -- INT. VIRGINIA'S HALLS OF POWER -- DAY
The halls of power in the Virginia GENERAL ASSEMBLY, where a HYPOTHETICAL OLD-SCHOOL LEGISLATOR, a HYPOTHETICAL LOCAL FILMMAKER and a HYPOTHETICAL HOLLYWOOD FAT CAT discuss the merits of incentive programs. Behind them, ELVES ride UNICORNS.
Now you tell me -- why should I, in a state with the most financially stable economy in the nation, just throw money at those Hollywood fat cats? We've got real problems here in our glorious commonwealth. Transportation crime. Elves?
That's a valid concern, friend. Here's how it works. A film comes to the state and, after completing production, gets back a percentage of its investment. That happens through tax credits, which they can sell to local businesses, or grants, as refunds. The going rate is a return of about 20 to 25 percent of what the production spends.
ANDY (dressed as '80s rock star)
They don't get a dime until they've spent a dollar. That's a quote we like to use.
Andy grows WINGS, flies away.
So why would we bother giving them any money back? How's that gonna help us?
Because of what that money does once it hits the economy. For every dollar spent by a production here, $14.30 ends up going back into the economy.
Is that right?
Well, that's what a recent VCU study found. Now, Virginia won't support tax credits, but a grant given at the end of the production might sweeten the deal for out-of-state film companies that won't have to mess with selling tax credits back. The Film Office estimates that with no money in the budget this year, the state lost 50 to 60 million dollars. That's jobs for a lot of Virginia production people.
HOLLYWOOD FAT CAT (sidling up)
Ahem. We, ah, we would want to bring our own people in, though.
The Filmmaker and the Legislator look at him, aghast.
(sitting on Unicorn)
It's true. The trend is for a film company to bring in its own people --
at the very least the keys, or the heads of the various teams: camera, electrical, wardrobe, etc.
So an incentive program has to encourage the film company to hire locals without discriminating against out-of-state folk, since the feds won't appreciate that.
But if an incentive sweetens the deal enough, the production hires out locals for, as another VCU study determined, an average salary of about $60,000 in Central Virginia and $51,000 statewide. That's why it benefits most states to allow incentives in proportion to how much local talent is used. Right now it's also a double whammy to people in the production community who are caught -- there's no work here to be had, but they can't always go to other states because their incentives favor employing their own locals. So they keep moving.
9. INT. BARN -- DAY
We see a wiry man with a BRIGHT TATTOO down his left arm running and then falling out a window onto a pad. Also, he's ON FIRE.
Meet Kid Richmond, formerly Jake Richmond. The 27-year-old is a Virginia-based stuntman. He's licensed to set himself on fire for movies, but also works with his sponsor, a maker of fire-retardant gel, at military trade shows. That and the occasional commercial have been his bread and butter for the seven years he's been back here since moving from L.A. He says networking is one of the most important things for locals -- with other locals, and with imported productions.
It's kinda like a vouching system. Like the Mafia. You don't want to hire any outsiders.
But Kid has seen these productions populated with crews of outsiders. Locals don't get the key positions.
When they bring a film to town, they bring in all the L.A. guys. So the [local] merchants are the only ones who benefit. What's the incentive of doing an incentive if it's going right out the door?
Kid continues burning, but there is no one to see him.
RAY BROWN is a key grip with 21 years of experience wiring movies. He's also the co-chair of the VPA Task Force with local actor/producer Mark Joy. MONTAGE of Ray driving to other states for work, getting frustrated.
Ray Brown considers anywhere in Virginia a short drive to work. He's already lost jobs in Florida and Tennessee because of the incentives there. So he drives and drives, forever.
Ninety percent of the time, when a show comes in, they at least bring the department heads, and then at least one additional for the department, and then they start rounding things out. I think there would be a way around that if we could get the incentives.
What we would like to see happen is: Additional benefits or incentives are available if you hire Virginia crew. Up the ante a little bit.
Brown gets more incensed as he drives.
RAY (VOICE-OVER, CONT.)
In the past 24 months, we have watched this steady decline, people bailing out of the state. We've had no work in the state of Virginia since June, and we have nothing solid coming up.
For most of us there [in the task force], this is the last big push. After this, Virginia's gonna have to figure this out on its own.
We're just asking for Virginia legislators to wake up and help us out. It's not like they don't know there's a movie business in this state. From my perspective, they either don't care or are uninformed.
This is not an experiment. This is something that's been working for 35 other states, and they're making money hand over fist. Maybe I'm too much of an average guy to understand how this whole thing works, but they're screwing the pooch.
Virginia may not be the only one. There's concern in New Mexico that generous incentive programs are too generous. There is talk that the state allows incoming productions to get by on hiring a minimum of local talent, meaning if financial incentives pick up here, it's something to keep an eye on. Nevertheless, as of last year, that state has brought in $650 million since Governor Bill Richardson took office in 2003, according to the New Mexico Film Office.
11. EXT. NEWSTAND, SHOT OF THE TIMES-PICAYUNE, dated May 29, 2007 -- DAY
Another big incentive state being closely watched is Louisiana, which, it may surprise no one, faces a potential corruption scandal.
We see the headline: "FBI investigating Louisiana's film industry incentives" and can make out some of the text:
Casting a pall over one of the few sectors of growth in Louisiana's struggling economy, federal investigators have opened a wide-ranging probe into possible abuse of generous tax credits offered by the state to lure film productions.
Ah, Louisiana. These are concerns Virginia's champions will have to remember when they go into battle at the state capitol in January.
12 INT. THE CAMEL, RICHMOND -- VPA TASK FORCE MEETING -- DAY
Members of the VPA Task Force are organizing a push for incentives at the General Assembly session. They're gathered around a rectangle of TABLES in a dramatically lighted room.
PAN ACROSS FACES to see ANNE CHAPMAN, president of the Virginia Production Alliance; RAY BROWN and MARK JOY, co-chairmen of the task force; BOB GRIFFITHS, documentarian of the Virginia film industry; TODD RAVIOTTA, young filmmaker; and the Virginia Film Office trio: RITA, ANDY and BECKY BECKSTOFFER, marketing manager. Also grips, wardrobe and so on. The room is full of SPORT COATS, dramatic cheekbones and sonorous baritones.
When we as members of the VPA go to our legislators, we're educating them about the loss of work.
CLOSE-UP on TERRY STROUD, chief of In Your Ear Studios and registered lobbyist for the film industry in Virginia -- he's been working with the legislature since 1995.
TERRY (talking fast)
What's really going to happen is you're going to hit the governor's budget on Dec. 17 and everybody's going to find out what their budgets are. And at that point, the game is on. What you're really down for is, what is the patron willing to put in and fight for?
Debate continues: How much to ask legislators to put in the Governor's Motion Picture Opportunity Fund (debate ranging from about $5 million to $10 million over two years), hiring a LOBBYIST (about $25,000). Strategy talk.
This is about building an industry, not just a company coming from out of state or an independent filmmaker in Virginia. It's hardware, bricks-and-mortar, tax-revenue-generating boxes. as well as getting people to move to Virginia on a permanent basis. You're building more of your citizenry, and that's really talking about building an industry, that's not just making movies.
13. EXT. VIRGINIA GENERAL ASSEMBLY -- DAY
TITLE CARD: "January 2008."
TERRY (VOICE OVER)
Our grassroots efforts are going to have to be stronger than ever before.
An UNKNOWN LOBBYIST approaches the STATE CAPITOL.
FADE TO BLACK.