“Power is like real estate,” said Kevin Spacey’s calculating Congressman Frank Underwood in the first episode of House of Cards. “It’s all about location, location, location.”
And as the acclaimed Netflix political drama returns for season two, nearly 30 Towson University alumni are located right in the middle of the action.
Although the series is set in Washington, D.C., it’s filmed almost entirely in the Baltimore area. That’s a boon not just for Maryland, but also for the many crew members who graduated from TU.
Setting the Scene
Kristina Kilpe ’92 was the property master for both seasons of House of Cards, in charge of researching, acquiring and creating the countless props used on screen. From ceremonial pens for a bill signing scene to the origami that recurs throughout the series, if it was in an actor’s hand, it was probably in Kilpe’s first.
The 20-year film veteran also oversaw the crucial matter of the show’s continuity, ensuring, for example, that a character’s ring appears on the same finger in every scene or that wine glasses don’t mysteriously refill between cuts.
“Our business is the suspension of disbelief,” she said. “We seldom shoot anything in order, so we have to pay close attention to detail in every scene, every script, every day. If the audience can get lost in the story without noticing anything out of place, we’ve done our job.”
Biz Kopp ’11 was a property assistant under Kilpe for the first season. In season two, she moved to background, where she managed the many hundreds of extras and actor stand-ins, shepherding them from wardrobe to makeup to props to set.
As one of the youngest Towson alumni on House of Cards, Kopp highly values her experience on the show. She says the grueling schedule and long days—usually 14 hours or more for the entire eight-month production—bring everyone together unlike any other job.
“You spend more time with the crew than you do at home,” she said. “You’re surrounded by brilliant people who are so good at what they do. They become your family, and you work hard for them. There’s great pressure to perform at your very best, because everyone brings their A-game.”
Building a Network
As the show’s key construction rigger, Lee Shapira ’74 managed the infrastructure for the production’s 100,000 square-foot sound stage in Harford County. All the sets—from the Oval Office to the interior of the Underwoods’ Victorian rowhouse—were built in the massive warehouse, using Shapira’s rigging as a backbone.
For Shapira, House of Cards, above all, means jobs for the many freelancers who call Maryland home. Television and film is a feast-or-famine business, and over his 40-year career Shapira has seen many ups and downs in the local industry. A runaway success like House of Cards is always a huge step forward.
“To have a thriving film industry, you need the network,” he said. “That means you need production companies setting up and being successful. It also means you need good people, and universities continuing to train the next generation.”
The network Shapira discusses has already paid off for grads like
Jeremy Tan ’10. As a location assistant for the show, Tan helps scout, secure and manage sites for everything that can’t be filmed at the soundstage—such as outdoor scenes and building facades. Some scenes for season two were even filmed in downtown Towson, just blocks from the university.
Tan credits his TU professors in the Department of Electronic Media and Film with getting him his first film gig after graduation: a few days working on Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Tan used his Transformers connection to land work on the HBO movie Game Change that eventually set him up for his position on House of Cards.
“This career is all word-of-mouth,” Tan said. “It’s about building your reputation and connections. If it weren’t for my professors giving me a foothold, I know I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”
MORE TOWSON ALUMNI "HOUSE OF CARDS" CREW
electric day player
craft services assistant
1st assistant director
|Chuck J Stone
art department assistant
best boy electric/
By Dan Fox. Photos by Kanji Takeno and DeCarlo Brown.
Cover photo: Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season 2 of "House of Cards."
Top photo: Kevin Spacey in season 2 of Netflix's "House of Cards." (Nathaniel Bell for Netflix)
Video: Courtesy of Netflix.