A cinematic capital: D.C. is no stranger to Hollywood

Nicole Kidman is coming to campus to film a movie – but really, it’s no big deal. Students might as well shrug their shoulders and walk away as she films “The Visiting” at the GW Hospital later this month – after all, she’s just one in a line of Hollywood demigods that have used the sights of the District as a backdrop for their films.

George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks and Eva Longoria: all of these stars have beaten her to the punch. Washingtonians will go on with their day, unimpressed by this statuesque blonde gracing D.C. with her presence – there will be more celebrities to follow, no doubt.

At least that’s what the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and TV Development would like to ensure. Responsible for enticing Hollywood production companies to use the buildings and streets of D.C. for their movies, the office handles on-location needs for productions.

“D.C. is one of the most recognizable cities in the world,” said Crystal Palmer, director of the Office of Motion Picture and TV Development. “We have the technical base here to handle all forms of production.”

Part of the reason GW was chosen for “The Visiting,” a remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” was because the writer was familiar with the area. The cast and crew will be filming at various locations here for nearly a month.

“We help (the filmmakers) in every phase – from script, to the location, to when they arrive and begin shooting,” said David Cuozzo, production assistant at the Office of Motion Picture and TV Development. “We want to help the community as well, and get them involved. We try to make (a film) the best experience for residents and for tourists when they’re in town.”

Filmmakers can fill out paperwork as few as 72 hours before arriving on set in D.C., and filming permits are provided at no cost.

“Even though we don’t make any profit from the permits, we get a lot of revenue in the hotels, catering, production staff and things like that,” Palmer said.

Washington, D.C., has plenty of famous filming sites – after all, the White House, Capitol and the monuments on the Mall provide an ideal backdrop for any movie with a political theme. It’s no surprise that films such as “All the President’s Men,” “Nixon,” “Forrest Gump” and “The American President” used locations in the area for their outdoor scenes. Other movies have found the landmarks of the city to be a nice supplement as well.

Ben’s Chili Bowl, famous for its diner cuisine, served Denzel Washington when it was the set for a scene in “The Pelican Brief.” Will Smith ran from the feds here in “Enemy of the State,” which was shot partially in the area. The Q Street underpass featured prominently in the film; Smith also jumps from rooftop to rooftop above the houses of Adams Morgan. “National Treasure,” with Nicholas Cage, was shot in many locations around the city, but especially featured the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

The most famous film sites come from “The Exorcist.” The “Exorcist House” is a top spot for horror fans to visit, where they can marvel at the stairs where Father Karras (played by Jason Miller) fell to his death. Nowadays, joggers ascend the steps between M Street and Potomac Avenue, but the spooky staircase remains a top spot for Haunted D.C. tours.

“It played such an intricate role in the plot,” Cuozzo of the location’s fame.

Also in Georgetown is a more unexpected set – the Shops at Georgetown Park, home to Anthropologie and J. Crew, once also held a gun-toting Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “True Lies.” In his pre-Governator days, Ah-nohld raced up and down the mall’s escalators in an extended chase scene.

Finally, the most famous hotel in Washington was once the spot for one of the most famous directors: Steven Spielberg. He shot some of the final scenes for his futuristic action film “Minority Report,” starring Tom Cruise, atop the Willard Hotel. The film used numerous other D.C. locations including the Federal Triangle area, where Cruise’s Precrime Department was headquartered, and the Gap store in Georgetown.

D.C. is also a top spot for shooting documentaries – so much that the city has been called “Docuwood” by the L.A. Times – including the Academy Award-winning film “Fog of War,” about Robert MacNamara.

“The Visiting” is not the first movie to ever be shot on GW grounds, either. The films “Billy Jack goes to Washington,” “First Monday in October” and “Protocol” have used the hospital for scenes previously.

The more popular filming destination is actually the Hall on Virginia Avenue – naturally, it has a historic appeal for movies that address the Watergate scandal. “Dick,” “Nixon,” “All the President’s Men” and “Forrest Gump” have all included HOVA in their settings.

“The Visiting” will be using locations in D.C., the setting of the film’s story. But John Latenser, the film’s location manager, said much of the movie is being shot in Baltimore. The hospital scene is “just a walk-and-talk with (the) character that plays her boyfriend,” he said. The boyfriend character will be played by Daniel Craig of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”

The tentative filming date, said Tracy Schario, GW director of media relations, is Oct. 24. The scene will be shot outdoors on the I Street Mall, with the characters walking from 23rd Street to 24th Street, and into the hospital, with about 10 seconds of dialogue. Though police will be there to control the crowd, it will be possible for students to watch the filming process.

“It shouldn’t interfere with regular business,” Schario said. “They can’t totally block off the street. I’m sure they’re used to having a lot of people looking on.”

“We’ll be using lots of other locations as well,” Latenser said, “But I can’t reveal them yet. One will be the Dupont Circle tunnel – that scene will be filmed overnight, and there’s a stunt involved.”

The film will be substantially different than the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” said the film’s publicist, Alex Worman.

“It retains its theme of fear and paranoia, but the characters, the setting, the actual scenes and whatnot are completely different,” said Worman. “The essential element of an alien invasion that changes the behavior of people is still the same.”

Worman doesn’t expect the GW Hospital to reach the scale of the “Exorcist House” in its recognition as a movie location, though.

“It’s just going to be a subtle background,” he said. “The director is not trying to make postcard images of the city.”

“The Visiting” isn’t the only film that has a D.C. location. “Mission Impossible 3” just wrapped recently, Latenser said. The film used the 14th Street Bridge as a filming location.

A film that will be in the area this weekend is “The Good Shepherd,” a Universal Studios film directed by Robert DeNiro and starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. Jolie will not be in any of the D.C. scenes.

Several films opening this fall also feature D.C. locales. “The Sentinel,” which filmed in Georgetown, stars Michael Douglas, Eva Longoria and Kiefer Sutherland. “Syriana,” about the CIA and the Middle East, stars George Clooney and Matt Damon. Finally, an indie film that’s received a lot of buzz at the Toronto Film Festival called “Thank you for Smoking” was set in D.C. and stars Katie Holmes.

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