Film tax credit stays same in Pennsylvania budget

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Film office directors in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia separately reached for the same word: "disappointing."

That was their response Monday to budget news that Pennsylvania is keeping its cap on tax credits for film and TV projects at $60 million as some states grow more aggressive with incentives.

"We're extremely disappointed. We're happy we still have a program, now we're going to work toward trying to get it better for next year. It's not how we planned on starting the new [fiscal] year," Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said Monday.

Pennsylvania has not stayed competitive with other states successful in wooing production, she said, citing a June study from the state's Independent Fiscal Office.

"The states with uncapped programs are being extremely successful. They're growing this industry, and they're getting infrastructure built because they've got a growing industry. So they're really building a business.

"We've been making movies in southwestern Pennsylvania since 1914 -- we already had a business. What the tax credit did was get us closer to leveling the playing field. ... Because of the actions of this current group of legislators we're not keeping up."

Pittsburgh lost the "Hatfields & McCoys" TV pilot to Boston, the Sundance Channel drama series "The Descendants" to Georgia and untold projects that never applied because producers knew the credit was exhausted.

Disney's "Million Dollar Arm," about Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospects who emerge from a competition in India, is shooting in Atlanta, Los Angeles and India with Jon Hamm.

When 60 percent of a company's production expenses are incurred in Pennsylvania, it gets a 25 percent tax credit on qualified costs. The makers of such films as "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Jack Reacher" and "Out of the Furnace" all told the Post-Gazette the credit sealed their plans to shoot here.

The $60 million figure is somewhat misleading because some of that is committed, leaving roughly $42 million for new applicants.

"The same thing that happened last year is going to happen this year," Ms. Keezer predicted. The credits will be claimed by October, crews may work till year's end if lucky and face unemployment until the cycle starts again.

"It's very distressing, and, ultimately, people who are professional in this business will have to pick up their families and move to places where the work is more dependable because the tax credit is more dependable," Sharon Pinkenson, director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, said Monday by phone.

She was stung by the loss of David O. Russell's "American Hustle" about the 1970s Abscam scandal in Philadelphia. Bradley Cooper is producing and starring alongside Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale and Amy Adams.

"They had a fantastic time shooting 'Silver Linings Playbook' in Philadelphia and were so excited to come back," Ms. Pinkenson said. "They could not get a tax credit in Pennsylvania, that was back last fall when we were already out of money, and they went to Massachusetts to double for Philadelphia."

States such as Massachusetts, Georgia, North Carolina, New York and Louisiana often are waiting in the wings if Pennsylvania cannot accommodate a project.

"People who don't know better will say that it's Hollywood welfare, but it's not," Ms. Pinkenson said. "It's just good business policy, it's business-attraction policy. ...

"So you can say, OK, we're not giving any 'Hollywood welfare,' if you will, but we're also not getting any Hollywood business."

An attempt by Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, to uncap the program was not successful. "Senator Pileggi believes uncapping the credit will create jobs and help the economy, and he will continue to pursue it," a spokesman said Monday night.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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