VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS
(OF GREAT FILM LOCATIONS)
When Lassie comes home this summer on the big screen, he'll be coming home to Virginia. It's a choice many companies are making, as Virginia's extraordinary growth in the film industry continues.
This summer, a new generation will encounter one of the world's most enduring Hollywood stars in a contemporary motion picture. Many people in and out of the film industry will also discover Virginia. Lassie will come home, after choosing the Old Dominion as the place to make his return. "Lassie" was filmed in Virginia's Tazewell County and the capital city of Richmond.
"We loved every phase of working in Virginia, from preliminary scouting visits to production and post-production," raves Michael Rachmil, executive producer of "Lassie." He says, "I would love to work in Virginia again and hope to as soon as possible."
With a calling card containing "Lassie," "The Pelican Brief," "Sommersby," "Big Brother Jake," and many more, the Virginia film industry is opening doors in Hollywood. It's easy to see why.
"From the colonial settings of the 17th century plantations to contemporary urban architecture to pristine rural settings, the Commonwealth of Virginia can provide a rich backdrop for the film industry," says new Governor George Allen. "The Commonwealth has diligently worked to nurture and expand opportunities for on-location and indigenous production in the state."
The Old Dominion's success can be attributed to several very specific factors: visible government, private, and public support; Virginia's diverse geography and climate (from the Atlantic Ocean to the Blue Ridge Mountains, with mild and varied weather); historic architecture; right-to-work status; a talented crew base; a talented acting pool; a sound infrastructure created to support tourism in the state and good relationships and experiences with industry officials in Hollywood.
Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, says, "Savvy film commission offices around the country are looking for any advantage they can get to help capture motion picture production. Virginia has much to offer and producers need to know about these assets."
The Virginia Film Office was created in 1980 to attract motion picture and television production to Virginia, promoting the assets to which Mr. Valenti refers. Since that time, Virginia has hosted 91 major film and television productions.
The long list includes: "Lassie" (Tazewell County, Richmond); "Conduct Unbecoming" (the Shenandoah Valley); "Foreign Student" (Lexington, various locations); "Pelican Brief" (Northern Virginia); "Sommersby" (Bath County, Lexington, Farmville, Charlotte County); "The Vernon Johns Story (Petersburg, Richmond); Dirty Dancing (Giles County); What About Bob (Roanoke, Bedford, Franklin); Navy Seals (Hampton Roads); and long-standing "Big Brother Jake" (Virginia Beach). Virginia has also hosted dozens of national commercials for companies, including spots for BMW, Maxwell House, and Nike.
In 1992, "Somersby" brought nationwide attention to Virginia as a film location. Director Jon Amiel says, "Virginia has a unique team of people determined to make everything and anything possible. Only in Virginia could you find the scenery and setting that I hadn't seen in movies for some time."
In 1993, on-location film production generated more than $48 million for Virginia's economy, including more than $16 million in direct revenue. Nine major film announcements in 1993 represented an increase of 29% in film production compared to 1992. The number of production days grew from 758 in 1992 to 942 in 1993, an increase of 24%.
"Yes, Virginia, there is an entertainment lawyer in the Old Dominion," says Kirk Schroder, an attorney specializing in entertainment law. "The busy production schedule and the production companies returning or establishing an on-going presence show me that 1993 was busy and the rest of the decade will be even better for the state."
Virginia's production slate for 1993 was diverse. Four major films for television, "Conduct Unbecoming," "If I Die Before I Wake," "Vernon Johns," and "Vanishing Son," all chose locations in the state. Feature film production included: "Lassie," a remake of the family classic; "The Foreign Student," a film based on the true story of a Washington & Lee University exchange student in the 1950s; "In the Line of Fire" with Clint Eastwood; and "The Pelican Brief," the second in a series of films based on John Grisham's best-sellers. The sitcom "Big Brother Jake" is now in it's fourth season.
"Hollywood people told me that Virginia has a very talented infrastructure and experience for all phases of scouting, production, and post-production," says Kulla Winslow, with Virginia's Chesterfield County Department of Economic Development. This infrastructure played a major role throughout Lassie's lengthy stay in Virginia.
Location potential was one of the biggest draws in 1993 and will continue to be a big asset for the state. Small towns, big cities, rolling countryside, and historic sites like Colonial Williamsburg all contribute to Virginia's compact geographic lure.
"We love using Virginia because of its variety, concentration of sites, and our ability to make it look like almost anywhere," says Raffaella DeLaurentiis, producer of "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Raffaella Productions used Virginia for "Vanishing Son" and "Trading Mom," a movie featuring Virginia resident Sissy Spacek and locations in Richmond, Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley.
Though Virginia clearly has "favored location" status in Hollywood, industry officials also addressed some of the liabilities in Virginia. These include: depth of the crew base (Virginia currently has enough personnel to provide local crew for two simultaneous productions); production equipment availability during busy periods; and lack of studio facilities.
State officials and local companies are working to alleviate these problems. Virginia's crew has grown consistently since 1980, as many people gain experience in and outside the state.
With film production continuing to expand, the equipment problem is becoming less of a factor. A corridor of professionals and equipment has developed in Northern Virginia, Richmond, and the Hampton Roads area. "As a result of so many successful ventures in Virginia, the crew base and experience at all levels has improved tremendously," says Charley Baxter, a Virginia-based location manager.
Susan Rohrer, a producer and director at NorthStar Entertainment Group in Virginia Beach, says, "Virginia has all of the correct components in place for a full-service feature film and television production company like ours." NorthStar has completed seven films in the state for CBS, ABC, and The Family Channel.
Finally, the Virginia Film Office is working diligently for the development of dedicated studio space. Given the state's success, it's just a matter of time.
Rita McClenny, director of the Virginia Film Office, says, "We have been successful because of our marketing, our location, and our people. Those who film here are greeted with an experienced film office, great locations, and professional and friendly people."
The Virginia Film Office is not alone in pursuing continued growth in the state's film industry. Statewide associations involved in the production industry include the Virginia Production Services Association (VPSA), the Independent Television Society (ITS), and the International Television Association (ITVA).
The Virginia Festival of American Film remains an invaluable component of the film community in the state. In its 7th year, the festival attracts numerous world-class filmmakers, industry officials, and several thousand citizens to screening and panel discussions. The festival offers Virginia's film industry an unequaled occasion to market to film industry leaders against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall. This year's theme is "Love and Romance."
"The Virginia Film Office, known for its superior service, has been successful in everything from recruitment of films to the establishment of the Governor's Screenwriting Competition," says Governor George Allen. "This tradition of commitment to the entertainment industry will continue and grow during my administration."
The Virginia Film Office assists filmmakers by providing location and production assistance and by arranging any necessary state or local services. Office personnel and industry officials throughout the state take deserved pride in their accommodating and professional ways. To find out more about shooting in Virginia, contact the Virginia Film Office at P.O. Box 798, Richmond, VA 23219, 804/371-8204 or 804/786-1121 (FAX).
LASSIE LOVES VIRGINIA
Lassie first captured the hearts of families more than 50 years ago and went on to star in nine feature films and more than 600 television episodes. The famous dog originally appeared in a short story by Eric Knight in 1938 for the Saturday Evening Post. A novel, Lassie Come-Home, soon followed and became the basis for the classic MGM film that starred Roddy McDowell and introduced the young Elizabeth Taylor.
As the Turner family travels from Baltimore, Maryland, to make a new life in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, they encounter a stray collie that seven-year-old Jennifer names Lassie. The dog becomes the unexpected companion of her cynical brother, Matt, as he explores the striking natural beauty of the Virginia countryside and moviegoers get to enjoy the scenery on film.
"'Lassie' preserves many elements of the original Lassie film, yet it isn't a remake," comments Jon Tenney, who plays the father, Steve Turner. "The story is very much in the '90s with issues that are pertinent now. Out of work, he moves his family from the city to rural Virginia. He ends up embracing this idea of becoming a sheep rancher, rediscovering himself and his ideas of how he wanted to raise a family all along."
The new movie stars Tom Guiry as Matt; Jon Tenney has his father; Helen Slater as Matt's stepmother, Laura; Federic Forrest as Sam Garland, a neighbor; and Richard Farnsworth as Matt's grandfather, Len.
Produced by Lorne Michaels, "Lassie" was directed by Daniel Petrie from a screenplay written by Matthew Jacobs, Gary Ross, and Elizabeth Anderson, based on the character of Lassie created by Eric Knight. Michael Rachmil was the executive producer and Dinah Minot and Barnaby Thompson were co-producers. It is an Eee-Yaw-Kee production, distributed by the Motion Picture Group of Paramount Pictures.
We spoke with Mr. Petrie about "Lassie" and filming in Virginia.
HR: What is your background?
Petrie: My films have included "Cocoon: The Return," "Square Dance," "The Bay Boy," "Fort Apache, The Bronx," "Resurrection," and "A Raisin in the Sun." I've also directed many telefilms, including "A Town Torn Apart," Mark Twain and Me," The Execution of Raymond Graham," "The Dollmaker," "Eleanor and Franklin," and "Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years." These productions won a combined total of 23 Emmys, among 52 nominations.
HR: Why did you choose Virginia for "Lassie?"
Petrie: I shot in Virginia twice before--"The Murder of Mary Phagan" and "My Name is Bill W." My experience there was most pleasant, with full support and cooperation from the Virginia Film Office. We even used the Governor's mansion for an Akron, Ohio hotel!
HR: What is so special about shooting in Virginia?
Petrie: The diligence of the Virginia Film Office, the facilities available, the glorious scenery, and the warmth of the citizenry.
HR: Do you have any special memories of your time in Virginia?
Petrie: Just another example of extraordinary cooperation. For "Lassie," we needed to state a major highway accident and, through the Virginia Film Office and the state and local police, we were allowed complete access to an interstate highway for several nights while traffic was politely detoured around us.
HR: Is there anything unusual about filing in Virginia that will interest Hollywood officials?
Petrie: The message should by conveyed that the Virginia Film Office is second to none in providing information, in helping with location selection, and with services and accommodations.
HR: Tell us about working with Lassie.
Petrie: I was surprised by the charisma of my canine star. The charm, sweetness, commitment, and intelligence--those qualities make the story work on a level that wouldn't be possible without that animal. The dog has a wonderfully expressive nature that is most endearing.
HR: Would you work in Virginia again?
Petrie: Absolutely. Any film requiring a "look" that could be found in Virginia would have me heading for Richmond first.
HR: What's your next project?
Petrie: "The Assistant," based on Bernard Malamud's novel.
HR: Final comment?
Petrie: I love Virginia!