News & Politics

“House of Cards” Is Probably Going to Stay in Maryland

District officials want the show to shoot in Washington more often, but Frank Underwood likely has them beat.

Frank Underwood is going to whip votes in Maryland. Photograph by Nathaniel Bell for Netflix.

On House of Cards, scheming Vice President Frank Underwood usually gets what he wants by plying his potential adversaries with a combination of charm and “ruthless pragmatism.” And with the show’s future production in Baltimore in the balance, Underwood himself—Kevin Spacey—will try to charm Maryland legislators into submission tonight.

Spacey and the producers of House of Cards are hosting a reception at a Baltimore wine bar for every member of the Maryland legislature, which getting ready to raise the state’s film incentive fund, which Netflix cites as one of the primary reasons for shooting in Baltimore. The show got $26 million in tax credits over its first two seasons, thanks to an incentive fund that swelled to $25 million a year. (HBO’s Veep got back nearly $9 million over the same period.)

Media Rights Capital, which produces House of Cards, threatened to move to another state after the incentive fund reverted to its previous levels. That piqued the interest of DC Council member (and mayoral candidate) Vincent Orange, whose signature issue is suggesting that more Hollywood productions that depict Washington actually film in Washington.

Orange’s office says he and his colleagues Jack Evans and Kenyan McDuffie have met with House of Cards’s producers to ask the show to increase the number of shooting days that actually take place in the District. House of Cards does drop in for the occassional establishing shot of the iconic skyline, but like many productions set in DC does the bulk of its work on a soundstage elsewhere.

It’s a tough sell for Orange, who is hoping to get the the third season of House of Cards to spend at least 10 days in DC. The District recently poured money into its film-production incentive fund for the first time in years, bringing it up to $4 million, but it will still be dwarfed by Maryland’s incentives.

Although Maryland’s program has been in flux, the state senate passed a bill on Monday raising its tax credit fund to $18.5 million, and the House of Delegates is expected to follow suit in the next few weeks. An aide to Delegate Sheila Hixson, who chairs the the house’s Ways and Means committee, even referred to the legislation as the “House of Cards bill.”

But Orange appears to have roadblocks bigger and closer to home than Maryland rolling over for Netflix. At a hearing Orange led Friday morning on film production where a string of witnesses complained about the District’s competitive disadvantage at greasing the skids for filmmakers, DC Budget Director Eric Goulet said the city has needed to move $480,000 out of the production incentive fund to other programs including veterans assistance and public safety grants.

“This fund will help make the District a film-and-television friendly environment, but losing nearly $500,000 is sending the wrong message to producers and executives considering doing business with the District,” Orange said after the hearing. Even if he gets the money back, Frank Underwood will have already bested him.

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.