Eleanor Holmes Norton Wants More Movies and TV Shot at US Capitol

DC’s delegate in Congress introduces a bill to open the entire Capitol campus to film production.
Eleanor Holmes Norton Wants More Movies and TV Shot at US Capitol
One of the few places on the Capitol grounds movie crews can shoot from. Photograph by Flickr user Victoria Pickering.

The US Capitol has very strict rules against commercial movie and television production on its grounds, making the already-difficult process of filming here that much trickier by limiting camera crews to Union Square on the west side of the complex. But Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s delegate in the House, introduced a bill yesterday that would open the entire 290-acre Capitol campus in hopes of getting more films and TV shows about Washington to actually shoot here.

Norton has been scratching at the issue since late 2011, when jursidiction over Union Square transferred from the National Park Service to the Architect of the Capitol, which has a longstanding ban on commercial, non-news filming. Norton’s office managed to secure an exemption for Union Square after the changeover, but it still limits productions that want exterior shots of the Capitol to a single vantage point.

Norton’s bill only applies to exterior scenes, but in a statement from her office, she says the current restrictions don’t just crimp movie productions, they also trample on free speech.

“In today’s world, where many societies are facing upheavals, our country, with an exemplary model of democracy, should be the first to encourage commercial photography and filming to record various scenes of the legislature, which symbolizes U.S. democracy at work,” she says. “Limiting commercial filming and photography of the Capitol, an important vehicle for telling the nation’s story, does not serve the American people.”

Norton also says her bill would give an economic boost to the District, which struggles to attract film sustained production without a financial incentive program that other cities and states offer. Tax credits and rebates are one of the main reasons shows like House of Cards and Veep film in Maryland, which has given those two shows tens of millions of dollars since they started production.

Leslie Green, a spokeswoman for the District’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, says her agency is “thrilled” to see Norton try to open more of the Capitol to movie crews. But while Hollywood productions would surely enjoy greater access to the Capitol grounds, Green’s office does sometimes facilitate shots of the Capitol dome from non-federal territory, such as a view down North Capitol St. that features in House of Cards’s credit sequence.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.