"House of Cards" is also being watched closely by the entertainment industry because it is the first major venture into producing its own content by the distribution giant Netflix, which boasts 20 million subscribers. The project is seen as part of a larger movement by distributors such as Netflix and Hulu to start producing and owning content instead of buying it from others.
Netflix outbid the highest-of-high-end established makers of quality TV like HBO by writing such a big check and guaranteeing two seasons of 13 episodes each without a pilot.
"Beyond what's happening here in Joppa, that kind of commitment also means we can find locations in places like Baltimore or the surrounding counties that we can dedicate as ongoing, on-location sites," Willimon says, referring to an agreement announced last week to film at the Calvert Street offices of The Baltimore Sun.
"For example, the newspaper office," he says. "We call it the Washington Herald. That's not newly built like these sets, but we will have control of that space. It will be like another full-time set for us. And we're building there as well."
Willimon, an Academy-Award nominee for the script of George Clooney's "Ides of March," is representative of the level of talent that will be spending the next six months in Harford County working behind and in front of the camera on Season One.
In addition to Spacey, the cast includes Robin Wright ("Moneyball"), who will play his wife, and Kate Mara ("American Horror Story"), who plays a young ambitious political reporter. Spacey plays Francis J. Underwood, the House majority whip, in the Netflix adaptation of an acclaimed 1990 BBC mini-series starring Ian Richardson.
The designer whose sets are being built by all those workers in Joppa is Don Burt, who won an Oscar for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Other executive producers include Eric Roth ("Benjamin Button"), Dana Brunetti ("The Social Network), Fincher and Spacey, a two-time Oscar winner for his acting.
No one on the project has attracted more attention than Fincher, the Golden-Globe-winning director of"The Social Network,""Benjamin Button" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
On March 7, The Hollywood Reporter quoted unnamed sources saying that Fincher was "battling" over money with Media Rights Capital, the production company making the series for Netflix. The Reporter said Fincher was "threatening to depart over his displeasure."
Melfi says any report of Fincher not being totally onboard is false, but he does acknowledge that "this show is bigger than was expected" and as a result, the producers did have to "run some obstacles" to move forward to where they are today.
If Fincher is about to "depart," it's going to be news to the residents of Bolton Hill, for example, where one of the walls of Park Avenue Pharmacy at (Park and McMechen) is being repainted this week from salmon to gray, because Fincher "did not like the color" and thought it would look better as a backdrop in certain scenes involving the front of the Underwoods' town house if it was changed.
Locations manager Patrick Burn says he then had to find the owner of the pharmacy and take the idea to the Bolton Hill residents' association to get permission.
"It's a warm gray, and ultimately they were thrilled," he says, smiling with affection at the way a Hollywood director's vision leads to a drugstore wall getting repainted — meticulously — in Baltimore. "Hollywood, heh? …It's crazy, right?"
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