By Alex Fitzsimmons
Last December, NCSL’s Meagan Dorsch traveled to Virginia to conduct social media training for legislative staffers at the statehouse in Richmond. But when she arrived, she was surprised to find a group of familiar faces—Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Steven Spielberg, James Spader and Daniel Day Lewis—had taken over the capitol.
The A-listers descended on the statehouse to shoot the new movie “Lincoln,” a film based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's novel, "Team of Rivals," starring method actor extraordinaire Daniel Day Lewis as Honest Abe.
The much-anticipated biopic, which is scheduled for release on Nov. 9, 2012, is the latest of many motion pictures to have scenes shot at one of our nation’s 50 state capitols.
“Traffic,” a 2000 crime drama starring Michael Douglas that earned numerous Oscar nominations, was filmed in Columbus, Ohio. Scenes from a press conference take place on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse.
As NCSL’s Tim Storey pointed out in a 2007 blog post, filmmakers spent 10 days at the Louisiana state capitol shooting scenes for “All the King’s Men,” a 2006 movie about the life of fictional politician Willie Stark, a character loosely based on the populist Governor Huey Long.
Boston is popular capitol city for Hollywood filmmakers, but one of the most famous films set in the Massachusetts capitol wasn’t even shot in the state. The scene from “The Departed” in which Matt Damon can be seen looking at the Massachusetts Statehouse through his apartment window was actually faked. That apartment doesn’t exist and that picturesque view was an effect shot from the roof of Suffolk University Law School, where Damon’s character says he is taking night classes.
Even though “The Departed” was set in Beantown, producers opted to shoot the film in the Big Apple because New York State offered a 15 percent tax credit. This is a common practice. According to NCSL data, 45 states and Puerto Rico currently offer motion picture incentives, including tax credits, rebates, and exemptions.
A number of films have used state capitols as substitutes for prominent federal buildings like the White House and the U.S. Capitol. Even though “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde” was set in Washington, D.C., the filmmakers used the Utah State Capitol for exterior and interior shots of the U.S. Capitol. Scenes from the 2000 film “The Contender,” a political thriller starring Gary Oldman and Jeff Bridges, feature the Virginia capitol doubling as exterior shots of the White House.
Though not a movie, an episode of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” was shot at the Indiana Statehouse. The popular comedy series takes place in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. In the episode, the show’s main character, Leslie Knope, played by “Saturday Night Live’s” Amy Poehler, gets an award at the statehouse.
By my count, there are at least three films shot at state capitols that either haven’t been released or were never finished. Scenes from “Better Living Through Chemistry,” which is scheduled for release in 2013, were shot on the street that encircles the statehouse in Annapolis, Maryland. The dramedy includes Olivia Wilde and Ray Liotta.
Also set to be released in 2013, “R.I.P.D.” is an action-comedy crime film with Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, and Mary-Louise Parker. Scenes were filmed at the Old State House in Massachusetts, which was the seat of the state legislature until 1798.
You probably haven’t heard of the movie “Nailed,” but don’t fret. Starring Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal, this romantic comedy was filmed in and around the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia. The only problem: It was never finished. Financial troubles forced filmmakers to abandon the project with only one scene remaining.
Although many movies have been filmed at state capitols, very few of them are actually about state government. Maybe Hollywood doesn’t think state politics is a juicy enough subject for summer blockbusters, but renowned documentarian Frederick Wiseman saw potential. In 2004, Wiseman devoted two months to filming the inner workings of the Idaho Legislature. The finished product was “State Legislature,” a 3-hour documentary released in 2007 to positive reviews at the Berlin International Film Festival.
It would be a Herculean task to figure out exactly how many films were shot at state capitols (if you know of any more, please let us know). But one thing is for certain: As long as our spectacular statehouses exist, Hollywood filmmakers will make movies there.