Virginia (or the Commonwealth of Virginia to give it its full title) is a state half way up the east coast of the United States. It is known as ‘the birthplace of America’, since it was the site in 1607 where English settlers established the first permanent colony in the New World - a resonance not lost on filmmakers.
The state’s 42,775 square miles offers a diverse landscape and therefore a plethora of backdrops for filming. The sandy beaches of Chesapeake Bay run down the east side looking out to the Atlantic Ocean; move further west, and you are met first by marshes, pine forests and acres of green hills in the central Piedmont region, and keep going to end up at the stunning Appalachian Mountains and breathtaking Shenandoah Valley.
The state’s capital, Richmond, is an independent city and as such is not part of any county. Similar can be said about Washington DC, the whole nation’s capital, which isn't in a state and is its own district – but is bordered by Virginia. Northern Virginia, to be specific, and as such much of this part of the state is considered a suburb of metropolitan DC.
Irrespective of boarders and lines, it’s true to say that Virginia is known for its connection to government: McLean, in Fairfax County, contains the headquarters of the CIA, and United States Department of Defence has its HQ (the Pentagon) in Arlington County. Plus, of course, iconic sights such as Lincoln’s Monument, the Washington Monument and the White House itself are all not far away to the north.
A diverse range of movies have made use of Virginian filming locations. Ben Affleck directed his way to a Best Film Oscar with Argo in 2012, shooting some of the US-set footage in McLean (specifically, the establishing CIA HQ scenes). Steven Spielberg didn’t win the Academy Award that year but still shared Virginia as a filming location, shooting his Lincoln at the National Battlefield Park in Richmond. In fact, movies concerned with US political matters have used the state time and time again: director Clint Eastwood chose to film 2011’s J. Edgar in Warrenton, and both the Chris Cooper/Ryan Phillippe double-header Breach and Oliver Stone’s conspiracy yarn JFK took to Arlington, in 2007 and 1991 respectively.
Out of the cities and into the countryside, Terrence Malick made stunning use of the Chickahominy River for the majestic opening of his Pocahontas drama The New World in 2005. The 2007 comedy sequel Evan Almighty may have been damned to box office hell, but it did give plenty of exposure to Virginian filming locations, the long list taking in Charlottesville, Shenandoah National Park, Crozet, Staunton, and Waynesboro.
Ridley Scott used both Richmond and Montpelier for his entry to the Lecter saga, Hannibal, in 2001.
Silence of the Lambs survivor Jodie Foster tried to make Contact in 1997 and visited the Chinle Valley’s awe-inspiring Defiance Plateau in the process; earlier, in 1993, she’d been suspicious that Richard Gere really was her Sommersby, in locations filmed all over Virgina (Farmville, Hot Springs, Warwickton, Appomattox, Charlotte Court House, and Lexington).
Details about how to obtain a filming permit for the different regions of Virginia can be obtained by contacting the Virginia Film Office.
The application form for the Virginia Beach area gives an idea of what may be required.
Light House Studio is in Charlottesville; TradeMarky Films (Richmond) has a 3000 square foot facility including a set construction workshop; Mediajack Films (Norfolk) concentrates more on content creation; TriVision Studios is a Media Production Studio Facility in Washington; Richmond’s Studio Centre provides video and audio production facilities. 108 Studio handles production, post production, audio and music and is located in Richmond.
The Washington-based Creative Video is a full service video production company, specialising in live event production, projection, staging, duplication and post production.
Colonial Williamsburg Productions, in Williamsburg, provides satellite uplink and production truck rental.