Filming of the second season of the Netflix production "House of Cards" began in the Baltimore area Monday, and with it came an announcement from Gov. Martin O'Malley that the first season of the political thriller starring Kevin Spacey had brought $140 million in economic impact and 2,200 jobs to the state.
The state's Film Production Tax Credit helped bring "House of Cards" here, according to O'Malley.
"Together with our leaders in the General Assembly, we've expanded the Film Production Tax Credit," O'Malley said in a statement, "and as we welcome the cast and crew back, we also look forward to more job creation and economic opportunity to come."
Both the dollar figures and the politics behind them in O'Malley's statement were quickly called into question by critics of the incentives program. Funding for production incentives, aimed at bringing series like "House of Cards" and HBO's "VEEP" to Maryland, rose from $7.5 million in fiscal year 2013 to $25 million in 2014 as a result of action taken in the last legislative session.
"Obviously, incentives do generate economic activity, but I would question that figure that the O'Malley administration is throwing around," said Christopher B. Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a conservative think tank.
"The Maryland legislature is down on bended knee handing these tax credits out to the film companies when it's done nothing for the past several years but raise taxes on Maryland businesses and taxpayers," he continued. "So why should Marylanders spend more on the film industry? Perhaps, they [the General Assembly] should consider tax policies that lower taxes on everyone in Maryland."
Summers also questioned how much of the money spent on making "House of Cards" went to people who live elsewhere and only came to Maryland to work on the series. But Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, said figures quoted by O'Malley on Monday came from an independently audited report.
In addition to the 2,200 Maryland crew, actors and extras, O'Malley also said in his statement that producers had "purchased or rented goods or services from over 1,800 vendors, many of which were small Maryland businesses."
Those are audited figures, according to Gerbes.
To receive payment under the incentives program, a producer has to submit numerous documents to the Maryland Film Office, including a payroll report, vendor list, accounts payable list, a list of all persons employed while on location in Maryland, a list of all Maryland residents employed, production schedule, crew list, all call sheets and all production reports.
After an independent audit is done at the producer's expense, the Maryland Film Office does its own audit before issuing the producers a refundable tax credit.
"We can tell you how many people from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Harford County worked on 'House of Cards' and for how many days and how much they were paid," Gerbes said Monday.
"House of Cards," considered a new business model for the TV industry, came to Maryland with an unprecedented guarantee of 26 one-hour episodes and the need to build what amounts to a small Hollywood studio in Harford to film those episodes. A set was also built at The Baltimore Sun. The Netflix production was pegged at $100 million going in, with much of that to be spent upfront to build sets and stages, including interiors of the halls and offices of Congress and exteriors of Capitol Hill and Georgetown townhouses.
In an interview at the soundstages in Joppa in March of last year, executive producer Beau Willimon told The Baltimore Sun that his team was expecting the 13 episodes of Season One to involve 150 days of filming, with 2,000 extras working a total of 5,000 days.
Before filming had even begun, the production had a full-time crew of 125 that would climb to 275 before they finished Season One. They started designing the sets in January, "hammering nails" in February, and already they had served 2,000 meals and paid for 2,000 hotel rooms by the end of March.