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D.C. police nix Netflix's 'House of Cards' motorcade shoot

Wednesday - 8/21/2013, 3:12pm  ET

D.C. vs. Hollywood: the fallout from a bungled 'House of Cards' shoot

Michael Neibauer, Washington Business Journal

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D.C. has enough trouble luring high-end film and television productions without the Metropolitan Police Department throwing up barricades, but that’s what happened one recent Saturday with “House of Cards.”

The Netflix production, a dramatic series filmed primarily in Maryland and starring Kevin Spacey as a manipulative congressman, was geared up for a 3 p.m. Aug. 3 shoot of a presidential motorcade running a loop around the National Mall. But Police Chief Cathy Lanier inexplicably pulled the permits that morning, according to multiple sources familiar with the goings-on that day.

“The Metropolitan Police Department is not the lead agency on presidential motorcades and we did not want to portray ourselves as such,” Gwendolyn Crump, MPD spokeswoman, said in an email. “We are sorry that the 'House of Cards' representatives are disappointed.”

Except it was a fictional motorcade. Fictional. And certainly not the first one ever filmed in Washington.

I’m told that MPD had been going back and forth on the shoot for days, changing its mind as early as 1 a.m. that Saturday itself, and then again eight hours later. “House of Cards,” in advance of filming, had split the motorcade route into segments and lined up 10 additional D.C. police officers (at a cost of several thousand dollars) to cover the loop to address any safety concerns, while also acquiring a permission slip from the U.S. Secret Service, which it didn’t really need.

It was all for naught.

Without permission to film in the District, the “House of Cards” production team frantically called Baltimore Film Office Director Debbie Donaldson Dorsey, who quickly pulled together the resources for the shoot, including a team of Baltimore police as an escort.

“Because we’re Baltimore, we get things done,” Dorsey told me Wednesday.

A PR rep for the “House of Cards” production declined to comment. Crystal Palmer, executive director of the D.C. Film Office, did not return calls or emails for comment.

When it comes to film and television productions, D.C.’s reputation is mediocre at best in the industry. Between a massive bureaucracy, multiple jurisdictional concerns, costly union pay and a lack of meaningful incentives, the District rarely plays host to a full-scale shoot.

Instead, productions such as “House of Cards” or HBO’s “Veep” come to D.C. for a day or two to grab their set-up shots of the U.S. Capitol, the White House or the monuments — and then they go. If the District loses that, which is a very real possibility given advances in CGI and the District’s collapsing reputation among industry leaders, what’s left?

© 2013 American City Business Journals, Inc.