Luring ‘Lincoln’

Virginia Film Office Director Addresses Annual Symposium

Posted: April 17, 2013

Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office, talks about his involvement in persuading Steven Spielberg to make the movie “Lincoln” in Virginia during the annual Lincoln Symposium at Bridgewater College on Tuesday. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
HARRISONBURG — It’s rare to hear Bigfoot’s name dropped as a comparison to Abraham Lincoln, but if anyone can pull it off, Andy Edmunds can.

In 2003, Edmunds, an employee of the Virginia Film Office, was first notified that director Steven Spielberg had an interest in shooting a film about the nation’s 16th president, starring actor Liam Neeson.

Edmunds worked to convince the legendary filmmaker that the commonwealth was the place to film. He sent thousands of pictures to a production designer and invited Spielberg on battlefield visits, as the script called for fight scenes.

Spielberg, though, instead pursued directing “War of the Worlds” with Tom Cruise, which included filming in Lexington.

Still, Virginia caught the director’s eye during that time, and when his interest in a Lincoln movie popped up again around 2005, Edmunds scouted more locations for filming.

But again, nothing happened with Spielberg.

“It kind of started to become ‘Bigfoot’ around our office,” said Edmunds, now the film office’s director. “Is [the movie] real? Is it a myth?”

Last year, of course, “Lincoln” was released and nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. It was filmed in Richmond and Petersburg, thanks to Edmunds.

The Lincoln Society of Virginia hosted Edmunds for its annual Lincoln Symposium at Bridgewater College on Tuesday night. He shared the decade-long journey it took to get Spielberg to shoot the film in the commonwealth.

“There were at least five different starts to the movie,” he said.

Ultimately, a new script developed with Neeson replaced by Daniel Day-Lewis and battlefield scenes giving way to the political landscape surrounding Washington, D.C., during the Civil War.

In the movie’s case, Capitol Square in Richmond became Washington.

Spielberg rarely scouts movie locations but in November 2010 he did just that, visiting Richmond for “Lincoln,” Edmunds said. The director was impressed but still needed to be lured with a financial package.

Edmunds said Virginia — buoyed by the support of Gov. Bob McDonnell — offered $3.5 million in incentives, far behind Georgia’s $10 million.

But a long list of in-kind services — more than 20 state agencies “touched” the movie, Edmunds said — sealed the deal in Virginia’s favor.

And Edmunds was even able to write into the memorandum of understanding with Spielberg a four-minute promotional video for the movie’s DVD on what makes Virginia’s history unique.

“This alone … is worth more than the incentive package,” he said. “It’s just a love letter to Virginia.

“You can’t buy that stuff.”

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or

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