News & Politics

Secrets Behind “Wonder Woman 1984,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Other DC Film Shoots

A bigtime location manager talks about filming in the District.

Shooting The Handmaid’s Tale in 2019. Photographs by Evy Mages
Matthew Noonan. Photograph courtesy of Matthew Noonan.

For two decades, major film and television productions have been calling Matthew Noonan to help them shoot in DC. A location manager based in Kensington, he finds the perfect places to film and gets permission to do so. We talked to him about his job.

Keeping things authentic

For Wonder Woman 1984, Noonan coordinated with the District Department of Transportation to remove modern parking meters. However, the bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue, which didn’t exist until 2010, had to stay. Noonan says the time, cost, and energy to remove and then repaint them wasn’t worth it.

Building elaborate sets

The balcony of the Library of Congress plays a key role in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, but it was closed to the public due to safety concerns. Noonan’s team had to construct another balcony inside the library from scratch, working overnight when it was closed and then shooting on a Sunday. “We filmed, then we loaded out and restored everything,” he says. “People who came in Monday had no idea.”

Working with the CIA

Federal agencies have pesky filming requirements, but the CIA is particularly tricky. Before Argo filmed there, the Agency required a list of all equipment being used and the crew’s Social Security numbers. The day of filming, everyone had “chaperones watching to make sure you’re in the area that you’ve said you’ll be in,” he recalls.

Shooting sans actors

In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tom Holland is seen running around downtown DC. In reality, none of the actors ever came here to film. Instead, track athletes were recruited to act as stand-ins for the sprinting scene. “These poor two kids who are running their hearts out happened to be the same height as Holland,” Noonan says. The film’s star was then digitally added in postproduction.

Filming during the pandemic

Impeachment: American Crime Story was shooting as the Delta variant took hold. Filming with Covid protocols was a “massive undertaking,” Noonan says. Though the movie wasn’t shot there, the Kennedy Center let the crew of 200 use lower levels of its garage as changing rooms and catering spaces.

Interacting with the public

When The Handmaid’s Tale filmed at the Lincoln Memorial, the monument had to remain open to the public. “It was a hair-raising time,” Noonan says. As crowds passed through, he acted as an ambassador, making sure they could watch without getting in the way and answering queries about the shoot. Often, he says, people just wanted to know where the bathroom was.

This article appears in the July 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

David Tran
Editorial Fellow