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Virginia Film Summer of 2019: 'The Walking Dead,' 'The Good Lord Bird' & 'Swagger' filming in Virginia

Virginia Film Summer of 2019: 'The Walking Dead,' 'The Good Lord Bird' & 'Swagger' filming in Virginia


It’s been the summer of filming in Virginia.

Three big-name shows have been calling the commonwealth home this summer.

“This is the busiest we’ve ever been with shows in production,” said Andy Edmunds, the director for the Virginia Film Office.

Here’s what they are and where they’ve been:

‘The Walking Dead’ spinoff

Synopsis: The third scripted series in “The Walking Dead” franchise has a working title of “Monument” and will follow the first generation of kids coming of age in the zombie apocalypse. It’s been described as a “Lord of the Flies” type situation where some characters will become heroes, others will become villains.

Where they’ve been filming: Three weeks in Hopewell for a critical scene involving a plane crash, upside down cars and torn-up streets. It’s been speculated that the plane crash will start off the show, introducing the main characters and plunging them into a new environment that they will need to figure out. The crew has been filming all over Richmond, including the Virginia Commonwealth University campus and in Petersburg. The “Monument” crew has rented a 300,000-square-foot warehouse in South Richmond, where they are constructing sets, and they occupy a 70,000-square-foot office space in Richmond.

Stars: “Younger” star Nico Tortorella will play a lead male role named Felix. Other characters will be played by Annet Mahendru and up-and-coming young actors including Aliyah Royale, Alexa Mansour, Nicolas Cantu and Hal Cumpston.

When: June to November

Type: 10-episode cable series on AMC

Release date: spring 2020

‘The Good Lord Bird’

Synopsis: Ethan Hawke will star as 19th-century abolitionist John Brown in this limited Showtime series based on the novel “The Good Lord Bird” by author James McBride. The show will be told from the point of view of Onion, an enslaved teenager who joins Brown, eventually participating in the famous 1859 raid on the Army depot at Harpers Ferry. Brown’s raid failed to initiate the slave revolt he intended, but it was a major contributor to the start of the Civil War.

Where they’ve been filming: Powhatan where they’ve built an entire Western town, Church Hill, Rocketts Landing, downtown Richmond, Petersburg

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”), Steve Zahn (“Planet of the Apes”), Orlando Jones (“American Gods”), Ellar Coltrane (“Boyhood”), Wyatt Russell (“Lodge 49”)

Type: eight-part limited cable series on Showtime

Release date: Feb. 16, 2020


Synopsis: Based on the young basketball experiences of NBA star Kevin Durant, the series will explore the world of AAU basketball including the players, their families and their coaches in Washington, D.C.

Where they’ve been filming: The pilot filmed over the summer in Petersburg, Richmond and Gilpin Court. The word is that the series has been picked up and plans to return to the area to film in the fall and spring.

Stars: The big stars here (at least, so far) are the producers Kevin Durant and Brian Grazer, who co-founded Imagine Entertainment with Ron Howard.

Type: streaming series from Imagine Television Studios and CBS Television Studios

Release date: no release date yet for Apple TV’s new streaming service

Impact on Virginia

All of this filming in just over nine months is expected to generate direct spending in Virginia north of $120 million, according to Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office.

To offer a little perspective, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” generated $32.3 million in direct spending.

Having these three big shows film in Virginia also generated hundreds of high-wage technical jobs and workdays for actors and extras.

“The industry touches all parts of an economy from buying paper clips to renting helicopters,” Edmunds said. “Filmmakers are like supertourists with a payroll.”

Many of the shows have built and created new sets, which will be left behind to add to Virginia’s collection. The Virginia Film Office has retained historical exterior sets constructed by shows over the years, like for “Turn” and “John Adams,” and uses them as a marketing tool to attract new work. Those sets helped attract Ethan Hawke’s “The Good Lord Bird.”

“The volume of work currently filming in Virginia is the result of many long-term relationships we have established within the industry,” Edmunds said.

For instance, getting the “Walking Dead” AMC spinoff to film here was directly due to the relationship the Virginia Film Office established with “Turn,” also an AMC show.

Filming is also expected to bring in tourism opportunities and tie-ins.

“The Walking Dead” franchise especially has an important tourism component because of the power and draw of the brand.

The original “The Walking Dead” show filmed outside Atlanta. The tiny town of Senoia, Ga., has become a “Walking Dead” tourist attraction with multiple tours tied to the show.

Edmunds said the Hopewell set with the plane crash for “The Walking Dead” spinoff was the “biggest television set I’ve ever seen in my 30 years in business.”

If “Monument” is a hit, it could draw the same kind of fan interest.

Regardless, returning shows with episodic content like “The Walking Dead” are especially attractive because of the ongoing jobs they can create year after year.

The Virginia film incentive program is currently capped at $9.5 million per year.

“We have used all that we have to attract all of the work currently in the pipeline,” Edmunds said.

In contrast, states like North Carolina offer $35 million in incentives, Pennsylvania offers $65 million, Louisiana offers $150 million and New York offers $425 million. Georgia and Kentucky are unlimited.

Internationally, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have no annual cap.

That makes competing pretty tough.

“To take advantage of this activity and grow the ground infrastructure, a larger incentive pool is essential,” Edmunds said. “A film incentive program is not about money for Hollywood, it’s about a job for Holly Smith, Virginia resident.”

In today’s entertainment market — with on demand, streaming, cable, etc. — the demand for creating entertainment content is growing exponentially. And it’s the reason why so many countries, states and localities work to attract films.

“To bring a production to an area is a triangle of requirements,” Edmunds said. “You have to have locations, infrastructure including crews and incentives. If you’re deficient in any of those areas, it just won’t happen. You have to have the whole package.”

(804) 649-6151

Twitter: @collcurran

Colleen Curran covers arts and entertainment for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She writes the weekly column Top Five Weekend Events.

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