Film, TV tax credits await Corbett budget

Producers may leave if applications denied

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If the Pennsylvania tax credit for film and TV production disappears or shrivels, Pittsburghers fear this could be the end of the road.

And it would have been the end of "The Road," whose behind-the-scenes players cited the tax incentive as a reason the Viggo Mortensen film came to town. So did the makers of virtually every other movie with stars such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.

A call to arms over the program is being issued by those in the industry, from film office directors and casting directors to businessmen such as David Haddad, whose Pleasant Hills company supplies cast and makeup trailers along with trucks for movies such as "I Am Number Four," filmed here in 2010.

Mr. Haddad, chair of the Pennsylvania Film Industry Association, said as many as four productions could leave the state unless their applications for incentives are signed, assuring they can start filming in 90 days.

"Paramount was waiting for their application to be signed and they were going to work in the Philadelphia area. They're gone.

"They laid off people who were on payroll; they're gone because the applications are not being signed pending review of all programs in the state of Pennsylvania," Mr. Haddad said.

Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, would not identify the project but it apparently is "World War Z," a zombie movie with Brad Pitt.

She said Tuesday the studio "is standing by, waiting to see what decisions Gov. Tom Corbett and the new administration will make. They want to shoot in Pennsylvania but if they're not going to get a tax credit approved here, they most certainly will not be here."

The future of the program will be made clear when Mr. Corbett presents his budget on March 8. Until then, spokeswoman Kelli Roberts wouldn't say whether the tax credit program would be part of the governor's plan for 2011-12.

Mr. Haddad said three other productions "are in the process of heading to Georgia unless those contracts get signed in the next week."

The PaFIA, a 900-member group, plans to hold a town meeting tonight in Philadelphia to address this virtual freeze in processing new applications.

"There are 44 states that compete for film work, there are 44 states that have film incentives. Currently, Florida has increased theirs, North Carolina has increased theirs, they've upped the ante and Georgia is the state that's reaping benefits from their generous film program," said Mr. Haddad.

"So everyone who leaves Pennsylvania is headed to Georgia."

He said the meeting will address reaching state Senate and House representatives about the importance of the program. "Once you understand the data, it's just a no-brainer," he suggests.

Although Mr. Corbett's office confirmed Tuesday that it would honor commitments from the Rendell administration, the Pittsburgh Film Office is looking ahead.

"What we're worried about is down the road," Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said Tuesday. "We were never concerned about contracts with the commonwealth," she said, assuming they would be honored.

However, she added, "We currently have five feature films looking at coming to Southwestern Pennsylvania whose applications have yet to the processed and approved." Among them, presumably, is "The Dark Knight Rises," the next installment in the Batman series. Two of the projects need approval by March 1 to meet production schedules.

"I fully believe that this administration is a pro-business administration," Ms. Keezer said, "which should help them understand the importance of the film tax credit program to business in Pennsylvania and to employees in Pennsylvania, so we fully expect the film tax credit to be fully funded in the next fiscal year which starts July 1."

Michael Thorn, senior vice president of creative affairs for Twentieth Century Fox, said in January that it was the location (Hartwood Acres) and tax incentives that resulted in the Fox pilot and potential series "Locke & Key" coming to town.

The program -- budgeted between $6 million and $10 million -- is currently in production and the Fox network will make a decision on whether to order additional episodes by May.

Late last week, IATSE Studio Mechanics, Local 489, and casting agent Nancy Mosser sent out e-mail blasts alerting people to a possible suspension or freeze of the program.

"I think the actors and extras are very concerned that this will be the end of filming in Pennsylvania and especially in Pittsburgh if they get rid of the tax credit," Ms. Mosser said.

"We're hoping that, upon review, when they see that it does bring a substantial amount of money into the region that they'll keep it. Everybody's very concerned."

For the Katherine Heigl movie "One for the Money," she helped fill 36 speaking roles and find a couple of thousand extras. "Love & Other Drugs" put 3,000 or 4,000 extras to work, and "Abduction" and "Warrior" regularly issued calls for extras.

As Pennsylvania and other states consider reducing or eliminating tax breaks for film and TV production, other states are preparing to step in and take their place.

Oregon's governor wants to boost his state's program by $10 million and Colorado legislators have proposed a 10-cent fee on all movie tickets sold in the state to fund an incentive program that would be used to lure film productions.

A new study by the accounting firm Ernst & Young says Michigan's incentives generate nearly $6 in economic activity for every $1 spent on the tax breaks.

The Detroit Free Press reported this week that the study's release comes as Michigan's movie-making business stands on the brink of extinction.

The paper says Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed ending the current tax breaks for filmmakers as part of a broad elimination of special tax credits and exemptions.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Tracie Mauriello and Rob Owen contributed to this report.


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