The Hulu series Dopesick has received great acclaim not only for its depiction of the opioid crisis, but for its spectacular use of Virginia as a film location. Production for Dopesick was held throughout Virginia, from Richmond to Clifton Forge…and, for one drone shot, our very own Fredericksburg.
Film and television production is beneficial to our Commonwealth, both in acclaim for studios and for the state and local economy. The reason I know that is because from 2020-2021, I worked on the Apple TV series Swagger in Richmond. Swagger was shot throughout Richmond and surrounding counties, and while on set, I witnessed first-hand the amount of money Apple and CBS Studios poured into local businesses. They hired a catering company to feed their 200+ person cast and crew. They rented parking lots for everyone. They paid for both permitting for locations, as well as to use the locations themselves. Every one of these payments benefited a local business or industry in Richmond, and did so every day for six months.
In the past 18 months, four major productions have been shot in Virginia: The Walking Dead: World Beyond (AMC), Swagger (CBS/Apple TV), Dopesick (Disney/Hulu), and Raymond & Ray (Apple Original Films). The total estimated direct spend, from these productions to the Commonwealth, was $160 million. While the economic impact is yet to be determined, the impact for other productions in 2019 alone was $862 million. And with streaming channels becoming more prominent, it is very much probable that Virginia’s economy would be strengthened by even more production.
Film studios and distribution companies determine which states to shoot in based on film incentives. These can include state grant opportunities for lower budgeted productions, or tax credits for higher budgeted ones. In Georgia, where film production is a booming industry, the state spent roughly $860 million on film production in 2018 (right around Virginia’s total economic impact of film). They saw an economic impact of $9.5 billion to the state economy, and have only raised their incentives since.
Virginia has so many beautiful locations for film production. We have beaches in Virginia Beach and Chincoteague. We have mountains in Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest. We have small towns all over the commonwealth, such as Woodstock and Gordonsville. And we have metropolitan cities such as Richmond and Norfolk. Why then, do we see such a lower economic impact in Virginia compared to Georgia? Because our film incentives are capped at $10.5 million a year, whereas Georgia, with no cap, has spent $860 million a year (and growing).
Film incentives are capped through the state legislature and Governor’s office. Every so often, legislation will be pushed through the legislature to raise the cap on incentives. In 2020, I personally met with about 20 Virginia delegates, and pitched to them why raising the incentives are so important. While I got committed ‘yes’ votes from almost all of them, it was not enough to prevent the bill from dying in the Appropriations Committee. However, I believe that once our state politicians see the economic impact of film from the four productions from 2020-2021, perhaps they will be inclined to support legislation moving forward.
Why not Virginia for film? More specifically, why not Fredericksburg? The first reason is simple: Fredericksburg has so many great locations for production. Our 40 blocks of downtown have endless possibilities for city or town scenes. The Rappahannock River and neighboring trails are perfect for exterior locations. Chatham Bridge would provide for amazing landscapes, and Foode or Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop would be just right for an historical film. There are so many great locations in Fredericksburg for production, and it is essential that we bring production here.
If film production were to come to Fredericksburg, the amount of businesses that would see a direct economic impact would be substantial. Catering companies, parking lots, locations, and hotels would all see a dramatic increase in their revenue. Even bars and breweries would see an increase in sales, as crew members love to experience the cities they are shooting in once the day wraps. Based on the direct spend of Virginia film in the past 18 months, if we were to bring only 5 percent of production in Virginia to Fredericksburg, that would still be $8 million of direct spend to the city. Production would be unbelievably lucrative to Fredericksburg.
It would also open the way for what is characterized as Film Tourism. Film Tourism is when fans of a certain series or film travel to their shooting locations. Spots in Virginia that were utilized as locations for film, or even surrounding localities, have seen a 150 percent increase in their business as a result of Film Tourism. For instance, if there was a film scene shot at Chatham Bridge, overlooking the Rappahannock, there is a very good chance fans of that film would want to take photos in that exact spot. Perhaps afterwards, they would stop for dinner next door at Tapa Rio or Orofino. These restaurants would experience a direct economic impact from Film Tourism alone.
Film production is such a creative and overlooked way to economically benefit Fredericksburg as a city. We will be working hard to bring more of it here.