Pharrell Williams wants to grow Virginia’s film, TV industry

Free Press wire reports | 7/5/2018, 6:58 p.m.
Two years ago, Pharrell Williams co-produced the movie “Hidden Figures.”
Pharrell Williams


Two years ago, Pharrell Williams co-produced the movie “Hidden Figures.”

It’s the true story of three African-American women — mathematicians from Virginia — whose efforts enabled a then-segregated NASA to launch astronaut John Glenn into Earth’s orbit.

The Oscar-nominated movie portrays NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton in the 1960s. But it wasn’t filmed on-site, or even in Virginia. The movie was shot in Georgia, where film tax incentives are more favorable.

Mr. Williams, a Virginia Beach native, found it odd that, while the events happened in his home state, it was being filmed elsewhere.

“As I stood on set among all of this positivity and productive energy, I asked myself why were we telling a Hampton Roads story in Atlanta?” He poses this question in a new video being shared around Virginia’s state capitol.

His solution is to create a film and sound stage campus, possibly in Virginia Beach.

“Virginia raised me and made me who I am today,” Mr. Williams, also famous for his singing and songwriting, said in a recent email to The Virginian Pilot.

“Nothing would make me happier than to work with the state of Virginia on making it a place where people come to create film, television shows and advertising. It would provide jobs and inspiration.”

Mr. Williams is consulting with Venture Realty Group, a commercial real estate developer based in Virginia Beach, on possible sites for a future film campus, according to Donna MacMillan-Whitaker, a managing partner in the company.

“For now, we are focused on putting the right program together, something that attracts the right business, adds jobs and increases revenues for the state,” she said.

This isn’t the first time Mr. Williams has voiced support for his home state.

He’s a partner in Venture Realty Group’s proposal to bring an entertainment center and surf park to the old Dome site at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront and narrates another video promoting that project.

His idea to create studio space in Virginia Beach and enhance the state’s film industry has bent the ear of at least one legislator.

Delegate Glenn Davis, who represents the 84th House District in Virginia Beach, said he supports the idea and plans to draft legislation for increasing tax incentives for film production in the state.

“Pharrell Williams has always wanted to bring back and help grow the film industry in Virginia Beach and create opportunities for others to have in his home city,” Delegate Davis said.

There’s just one problem.

In Virginia, there’s a $6.5 million cap on film incentives that will end in 2022.

“The amount is not enough to create critical mass, to build infrastructure,” said Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office.

By contrast, Georgia has no limit on incentives and no end date. Last year, the state gave up hundreds of millions in taxes on film production, but the film industry shelled out more than $2 billion there.

Delegate Davis said he believes Virginia has several assets that make it attractive — historic sites, beaches and mountains — all of which could bring down production costs.

“There are other things that Virginia can bring to the table that other states don’t have,” he said, adding, “It all comes down to what separates Virginia from everything else.

“It comes down to Pharrell’s passion. That’s what sets this completely apart.”