The commonwealth of Virginia has gone out of its way to make itself a welcoming home to independent moviemakers looking to take advantage of the region’s unique blend of the historical and the progressive. As one of the 13 original colonies, “Old Dominion” is rich in pride and tradition. From Colonial Williamsburg, where the early years of the United States are re-created in painstaking detail, to the Pentagon building, home of the Department of Defense, Virginia encapsulates well over 200 years of American culture within its borders.
For his 2007 FBI drama, Breach, writer-director Billy Ray felt the need to film in the locations where the film’s events had actually taken place.
“Breach was a true story and its events were a matter of historical record, so there were certain locations that I simply couldn’t live without,” explains Ray of his decision to shoot in the commonwealth. “One was the actual site of Robert Hanssen’s arrest, in Vienna, Virginia. We shot on the actual corner, a street called Fairway Drive, at the same time of year that Hanssen was arrested. His former neighbors came out to watch… The scene we shot there felt real because it was real—some things just shouldn’t be faked.”
In 2006, the Virginia General Assembly approved the Governor’s Motion Picture Opportunity Fund, a performance-based incentive that provides a cash rebate to moviemakers who have utilized Virginia’s resources during the course of production. Additionally, the state offers tax exemptions for film productions on items like film development and lodging, free use of certain state-owned locations and access to a 35,000 square-foot government building in the state capital of Richmond for use as production or office space.
One thing seems clear: Whether you’re aiming to make the next Revolutionary War epic or just need a film-friendly rural locale for your low-budget indie, Virginia will welcome you with open arms. Here, a few members of VA’s independent movie community weigh in on why the commonwealth is a great place to shoot.
In one of God’s greater paradoxes, he made Virginia home to both Pat Robertson and a strangely independent and rebellious breed of filmmaker.
—Nan Byrne, Writer, M2 Pictures, www.m2-pictures.com
The historic locations in Virginia always inform the production and message of every project I direct. Working as an editor for Griffith Films and on projects for the Virginia Film Office, I am in a unique position to learn and share the history and future of the Virginia motion picture industry.
—Todd Raviotta, Director-Producer, Natural Science Productions, www.naturalscienceproductions.com
Virginia’s intimate community of production professionals has a vast knowledge base that aids filmmakers in accomplishing their vision. The diverse landscapes and seasons inspire creativity throughout the film process—from writing to post-production. Virginia’s wealth of American history and its close proximity to the nation’s capital make for one of the most unique film locations in the country.
—Andrew Carnwath, Writer-Director (Bloodscout), www.bloodscout.com
As a filmmaker, it’s important to have your community informed and involved as much as you can in getting big studios and productions to come to your state. You cannot do that without incentives. It is too easy to replicate a state or area, so you need those incentives to lure those films to you. Virginia has so many gorgeous landscapes to utilize for multiple productions. We also have D.C. and Williamsburg to choose from when it comes to visual aesthetics for historical and espionage films and productions. Our state is full of lush and vibrant colors to match our rich history.
—Jonathan Plante, Director-Producer
The Virginia Production Alliance is a fantastic resource for all moviemakers in Virginia, providing useful information on local productions and upcoming seminars that educate filmmakers in a variety of ways. The Virginia Film Office, which is funded by the state government, runs this great internship program for college students and gives you a firsthand feel of what the industry has to offer. The state is active in developing young artists in their home state, which garners a lot of attention on the east coast. When production companies look to film historic epics that deal with the founding of our great country, such as Terrence Malick’s The New World, they turn to Virginia. Sets such as these educate not just moviemakers, but citizens of Virginia and the United States.
—Abraham Vilchez-Moran, Writer-Director (Beast of Mine, The Prophet)
As a 25-plus-year Virginia filmmaker, I’m editing my third documentary on moviemaking in Virginia. It has underscored the treasures of Virginia’s geography, history, people and film community. Additionally, work with the Nature Conservancy and Chesapeake Bay Foundation allows me to address broader issues of ecological balance and preservation of natural resources. Why move?
—Robert Griffith, Director-Producer (Moviemaking in Virginia)
Learn the benefit of film practice and theory at this all-female educational institution.
George Mason University
The undergraduate film program at GMU educates its students in the language of film and the business of the industry.
Get your bachelor’s degree in Media Studies and be trained in editing and video production at Radford.
Pursue Christian values in an entirely new medium at Regent’s School of Communication & the Arts.
University of Virginia
UVA’s Media Studies Program takes a critical approach to the study of the forms and effects of film, television and digital and electronic media.
Virginia Commonwealth University
Background in film or not, grad or undergrad, Virginia Commonwealth University offers something for everyone through its Photography and Film program.
China-America Festival of Film and Culture
Run by The Rose Group, this festival looks to create a healthy exchange of artistic expression between the U.S. and China.
Lifeview Film Festival
Check out one of Norfolk’s independent film outlets or enter your own film for prizes worth up to $10,000.
Looking for audience critiques on your short film? Enter it in this monthly forum.
Rosebud Film & Video Festival
In honor of Citizen Kane, the Rosebud Film & Video Fesitval seeks to honor films that have a deep, personal meaning to their makers.
VCU French Film Festival
Fostering a relationship between French and American cultures is the goal of this festival, which features movies rarely or never screened in the U.S.
Virginia Film Festival
Hosted by the University of Virginia, the Virginia Film Festival is a four-day event organized around a cultural theme, such as 2007’s “Kin Flicks,” which focused on cinematic representations of family life.
Richmond Moving Image Co-op
All Virginia media artists will find a home and resources at this organization, while moviemakers can seek opportunities with its
partner foundation, the James River Film Festival.
Virginia Actor’s Forum
Stop by to meet with this monthly consortium of Virginia-area actors and workshop your performances.
Virginia Film Office
Whether you’re a local resident or a Hollywood player, Virginia’s state film office is the central resource to keep you updated on all things moviemaking from location scouting to cast auditions and more.
Virginia Production Alliance
A collection of moviemaking resources, the Virginia Production Alliance offers free events to the moviemaking community it serves.
Virginia Screenwriter’s Forum
Have a great idea for a screenplay? Having writer’s block when it comes to ending your latest script? Discuss it with your peers at this screenwriting group.
Find a crew, establish your sound and put it all on DVD with the help of BES.
Bird’s Eye View
For indie moviemakers looking to save on production costs by doing it themselves, Bird’s Eye View offers a variety of camera packages that make it easy to go the low-budget route.
Cloud 9 Cranes
Make the audience think they’re on Cloud 9 by using cranes, dollies, jibs and other gear from this Virginia Beach company.
Creative Liquid Productions
Plan, shoot and edit your film with the services provided by Creative Liquid.
This award-winning team of moviemakers offers the basics and then some, including animation and Webcasting services.
Henninger Media Services
This Arlington-based company sees to it that your editing, color correction, graphic design and format conversion needs are met.
From pre-production to post, Metro Productions can help get your movie out of your head, on to DVD and in front of Internet surfers everywhere.
Rock Eagle Communications
If you’re looking for a company that can get your production off the ground—literally—Rock Eagle’s services include aerial photography.
Is your movie as high-energy and intense as The Food Network’s “Iron Chef” series? If so, you need Studio 404 (which worked on the hit series)
to help produce it.
Dinner and a movie is a one-stop affair at Cinema Cafe, which offers full-service dining at several first- and second-run locations.
This restored Art Deco movie house screens first-run flicks and features a restaurant in the main auditorium.
The Dixie Theater
Built in 1912, this movie house was originally home to vaudeville and cabaret acts and now shows mainstream hits to audiences in Staunton, VA.
This Roanoke theater is affiliated with the Blue Ridge Film Society and also offers online video reviews of films (both mainstream and indie) that screen there.
Naro Expanded Cinema
This indie movie house hosts a film forum discussion group several times a year, as well as a screening series on spiritual cinema.
Riverside IMAX Theater
The Virginia Air and Space Center is home to this IMAX theater, which screens the best of epic blockbuster and documentary moviemaking.
Vinegar Hill Theatre
For the past 30 years, this Charlottesville cinemathèque has screened arthouse fare for townies and UVA co-eds alike.