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'House of Cards' to stay in Maryland

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The hit television show "House of Cards" will stay in Maryland, even though state incentives offered to keep the Netflix series here came up millions of dollars short of what the producers wanted.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Media Rights Capital announced Friday that they had reached an agreement that would allow the third season of the political drama to be filmed in the state. The producers said they expect to begin filming over the next several months.

But the accord negotiated by O'Malley included no new money to make up for lawmakers' failure this month to give "House of Cards" the full $15 million the series producers were seeking. O'Malley, a Democrat, didn't include the full amount of taxpayer-funded breaks in his budget.

Media Rights Capital, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., had warned that if it didn't get sufficient state incentives, it would have no choice but to break down its sets and move the production to another state.

"House of Cards" will instead receive a total of $11.5 million this year, according to state officials. That amount is a combination of state film production tax credits left over in this year's budget and grants authorized by the General Assembly in next year's spending plan.

Though the money agreed upon was less than what the series qualified for under the state's film and TV incentives program, O'Malley and a top executive of the production company both declared themselves pleased with the outcome of the talks.

O'Malley, who is in Europe, released a statement through his office that read in part: "Spoiler alert: We're going to keep the 3,700 jobs and more than 100 million dollars of economic activity and investment that 'House of Cards' generates right here in Maryland.''

Asif Satchu, co-CEO of Media Rights Capital, thanked O'Malley for his "tireless efforts to keep jobs in Maryland" and the leadership of the General Assembly "for their continued advocacy and support." A spokeswoman for MRC declined to comment further.

The series, about an unscrupulous Washington politician, played by Kevin Spacey, has filmed much of its first two seasons in Baltimore and in Harford County, including renting space from The Baltimore Sun. At times, the political machinations this year in Annapolis over funding "House of Cards" played out like one of its episodes, with heated backroom negotiations and Spacey pressing the flesh with lawmakers at an invitation-only reception.

Legislation that would have provided the remaining $3.5 million sought by the series producers died in the waning minutes of the 90-day legislative session, with House and Senate members bitterly divided over whether to place strings on that money.

Senators had wanted to give the series all the money it sought, but delegates resented the producers' threat to leave and doubted how big a boon the production has been to Maryland. Unwilling to just give the money with no conditions, they refused to drop a requirement for state officials to reclaim any tax credits pledged to a production that later left the state.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who led efforts in his chamber to give "House of Cards" what it wanted, said he was relieved the series would stay in the state this year.

"It's good to get it resolved," said Kasemeyer, a Democrat who represents Howard and Baltimore counties. He said he hoped all parties could work out a plan to keep the production beyond this year, calling it a good investment for the state.

Del. Frank S. Turner likewise said he was pleased the series would stay. But the Howard County Democrat said he also was happy that the state had saved $3.5 million and suggested the film incentives need closer scrutiny.

"I know they're hiring caterers, craftsmen," Turner said. "They're staying at our hotels. So there are a lot of benefits. We just have to be able to identify what they are and make sure we are actually getting the bang for our buck."

"House of Cards" has received or been pledged more than $26 million in tax credits for filming its first two seasons in the state.

Business and union officials hailed word that "House of Cards" is staying, though they said they're still nervous about prospects for future years.

"A lot of Maryland families are breathing a sigh of relief this weekend that their family members will be keeping their jobs," said E. Scott Johnson, chair of the Maryland Film Industry Coalition, a group formed to bring film and TV productions to Maryland.

But Johnson said he feared repercussions from the three months of uncertainty that Media Rights Capital endured in seeking to get the incentives it thought was guaranteed.

David M. O'Ferrall, business agent for International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 487, which has as many as 250 members working on the series at a time, said some of his members had begun working on the show while the state and MRC continued to talk.

He said he expected more workers would be going back "immediately," with expectations that "House of Cards" will be filming again in six weeks.

But like Johnson, he also voiced concern about the future.

"They want to do more seasons, so we still have that battle to win," O'Ferrall said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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