In most movies and television series these days, Washington is most visible when it’s being played by another city—usually Baltimore, in the case of shows like Veep or House of Cards. One of the biggest reasons filmmakers give for skipping DC and casting another town to stand in is that other jurisdictions offer generous tax incentives for visiting film productions. But the District hasn’t done so in more than four years, making it very difficult for the city’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development to do its job, while neighboring states boast about raking in hundred of millions in economic activity.
The film office had also been rudderless for a few months after longtime director Crystal Palmer left. On Wednesday, Mayor Vince Gray finally announced a replacement: Pierre Bagley, who brings to the job some actual Hollywood experience.
Bagley, 60, moved from Los Angeles last weekend. He spent most of his career running a post-production studio. He’s also awaiting the release of his feature From the Rough, a story about a men’s college golf team coached by a woman. Bagley sees his new role as a “co-executive producer” who facilitates things for production companies and cultivates jobs for local film professionals. But without a tax incentive program to offer, DC might still be a tough sell at the box office.
You made your movie in New Orleans. Louisiana has one of the more generous film incentive programs. DC’s program hasn’t been funded in four years, and there are no signs it’s going to be funded any time soon. How are you going to get TV and movies here?
I think why this incentive fund was not successful and has been scrutinized is because even when they had it wasn’t very effective. At the end of the day, DC isn’t like any other place on the planet. I think it’s a false assumption to make the assumption that DC can and should be competitive with a place like Louisiana that can be “Anywhere, America.” The one thing that we know DC can never be is “Anywhere, America," so I think we need to get smarter about the kinds of projects we look to bring here.
What’s this “co-executive producer” concept you’re talking about?
An executive producer is essentially someone who is a facilitator. They either get the money, the talent, the idea, the distribution, or something key to make a project happen. We’re never going to stop with the permitting and the facilities process, but we’re going to add that capability so we can be very aggressive in getting things into this town. We’ve got a lot of resources in this town, and a lot of money, and a lot of people who love this city who would love to partner given the opportunity. But we need someone at the basic level to start the development process.
You’re a filmmaker. Is DC’s reputation as being a notoriously difficult place to make a movie accurate?
Difficulty is a matter of capabilities. Is it more difficult than New Orleans? Absolutely, because you can just drop a camera on any street and shut down almost any street at any time. You’ve got very few people there. The problem is the other cities don’t have a President and Pentagon that have to coexist in this city. You’ve got logistics here, and that’s just a fact. It requires someone who wants to exploit what we’ve got here. The location is just one of them.
The other thing about New Orleans is that Louisiana will give you some of your money back. Maryland will give you some of your money back.
And without that they would not even be on the map for filmmaking and TV. The thing about DC is that it’s one of the most recognizable cities on the planet. At the end of the day, I’m either going to spectacularly succeed or I’m going to spectacularly fail.
So what got you to commit to this job?
You’ve got a guy who’s been an entrepreneur, an independent producer, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to go out and bring home the bacon, every day. I’ve been in this game a while. And it’s really funny to me, having lived in LA, the lack of creativity. Who said this was supposed to be easy? We don’t need everybody to come to DC. We just need the people who get DC. You see DC, you see Capitol Hill, you see the same five shots, and I don’t have to tell you that. In the past ten years, this city has completely reimagined itself, and that’s usually great fodder for creative people. And LA, I love my town, but you can’t accuse them of being innovators. They’re still making the remakes of the remakes.
What do you see the goal of the film office being?
It’s to facilitate the existing productions that come through this town of any sort that need permitting, how to utilize the resources of the city. The other piece of that is that we want to go out and partner with people who want to bring things to this town that wouldn’t ordinarily be brought here who are looking for more than just tax credits.
What are they bringing?
You name it. It could be a TV show. It could be a movie. It could be a series of TV shows, live and narrative. It’s all of the above. One thing we haven’t seen is “live from Washington, DC” except news. There’s a lot of things that could be live from Washington, DC. Why not?