'House of Cards' keeps busy Harford shooting schedule, prompting a rare complaint

Cast members stand and cheer for a campaign rally scene in "House of Cards" filmed Thursday afternoon at Festival Park in Aberdeen.
Cast members stand and cheer for a campaign rally scene in "House of Cards" filmed Thursday afternoon at Festival Park in Aberdeen. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The production of the hit Netflix television series "House of Cards" has been largely welcomed in Harford County during the past three years, although one Havre de Grace business owner says he and other business owners experienced problems when the production came to the city's downtown earlier this month.

"We are greatly displeased with the overall impact on our local businesses," Ralph Shapot, owner of the Tidewater Grille and a member of the Downtown Havre de Grace Hospitality Association, said during Monday's Havre de Grace City Council meeting, although he laid part of the blame on city officials.


The "House of Cards" activity was the second in Havre de Grace within just a few weeks, and Shapot's comments are the first public complaints to be aired about the show, which has used Harford as its base for the production of all three seasons.

The show's third season production kept churning away this week, and there continues to be no shortage people wanting a part in it.


About 300 people were on hand for the shooting of more scenes in downtown Aberdeen Thursday, after a call for background extras was put out Wednesday.

"It's an interesting opportunity for the people who are involved in the show to see filmmaking in real time, and it does have an economic impact in the area," Kimberly Skyrme, the show's casting director in charge of principal and background casting, explained.

Skyrme, who noted production officials are strict about not giving away plot details, said "a gathering of like-minded people" was being filmed.

She said the shooting day began at 7:45 a.m., and such days typically last 10 to 12 hours.


City Manager Doug Miller said shooting was taking place in Aberdeen's Festival Park, and the crew has been working well with the city. One scene was a campaign rally for the show's principal character Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey.

Miller said crew members are "always asking permission, very courteous, very professional."

"We've had a good experience letting them use the city, and hopefully the city will project well," he said.

Skyrme, who has spoken before the Maryland Senate on the economic impact of a series like "House of Cards," said shooting scenes can cause a temporary inconvenience, but the activity brings exposure to communities.

"The limited inconvenience turns into a long-term success, because people come back to visit a charming city that they wouldn't have otherwise known of," she said.

In Havre de Grace, members of the City Council approved during their Nov. 3 meeting a request by the production company Knight Takes King Productions LLC, the "House of Cards" Production Company, which has an office in Joppa, to shoot scenes in the city Nov. 6 and 7.

City representatives provided few details about the times and locations for that shoot, other than it would take place at a home and in the downtown, and scenes would be shot during the day and at night.

Shapot said "communication was extremely poor on the city's behalf."

"What we are discussing are the incidents where the film staff were not permitting our employees access to work, and subsequently they were actually denying customers the right to visit us, as well," he said.

Shapot said street closures were not announced in advance, crew members used restaurant bathrooms and delivery trucks' access to restaurants was blocked.

He said those actions resulted in "countless hours of lost revenue."

"We do not expect such events to help everyone, but we also feel they should not hurt anyone," he said of the production.

Shapot said business owners feel the city should take immediate action.

"Our belief is that there should be clearly defined staging areas in town for such activities," he said.

Shapot said "city staff should have been more forthcoming with information to the area business owners."

"This simply did not happen," he continued. "The end result was lost revenue and unhappy business owners, and I might also add, unhappy customers."

Steve Sheppard, president of Havre de Grace Main Street Inc., who met with production staffers two weeks before shooting started, said he heard similar complaints from business owners about the streets being blocked.

He also witnessed crew members asking several vendors, who were downtown for First Friday, which overlapped with the Friday evening shooting, to close early or be quiet. Sheppard also saw a crew member ask a DJ to turn off his music.

Sheppard said "certain streets" such as St. John Street and Green Street were blocked during shooting. He said he knew in advance what streets were going to be closed, but the crew stayed on those locations much longer than expected.

"What I was most disappointed about was, we were not allowed to publicize them being in town," he said.

Sheppard said production officials expressed concerns about revealing details of the plot or characters.

"I was a little disappointed with the way the whole thing turned out," he said.

Mayor Wayne Dougherty said he has not received any complaints about the shoot, but he would follow up on Shapot's complaints.

He said production officials had been working with Main Street, and they asked them not to advertise the shoot.

"The production company does not normally do an announcement to the general public," Dougherty said.

Brigitte Peters, manager of the city's Office of Tourism, said about 200 members of the crew were in the city during the shooting period, and they used the American Legion Post 47 building and parking lot on St. John Street as a base of operations.

She said the production office sent a letter to business owners before shooting started.

"It was very important to them to be sure that they did try to contact the businesses and the homeowners [downtown]," Peters said.

The letter, dated Oct. 28, 2014, included locations where filming would take place Thursday, including the Havre de Grace library branch's temporary headquarters on Market Street, La Banque de Fleuve and 510 Commerce St.

It also included parking restrictions.

"We thank you in advance for your kind cooperation and appreciate the opportunity to film in your neighborhood," Eric Bannat, a member of the show's location team, wrote.

Spacey, the star of "House of Cards," was in Havre de Grace in early October for the shooting of scenes at Angel Hill Cemetery, which is near the outskirts of the city, and Havre de Grace has doubled as the Gaffney, S.C., hometown of Spacey's character, politician Frank Underwood.

Scenes for the show have also been shot in Aberdeen, and hundreds of hopeful actors and actresses have lined up for casting calls in Bel Air, where scenes were shot in 2013.

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