Unions benefit from film productions in region

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The stars are setting on Hollywood on the Mon for the first time in about five years.

Charles Eccles, the business agent for the IATSE Local 489, said there were 282 members of his union. This summer when called upon to provide technicians for all of the movie production companies filming in the Pittsburgh region, "we exhausted our lists."

His union represents stage employees and motion picture technicians. Right now he and some of his members are working in Weirton, W.Va., on a project, but when that is done in the next few weeks, no major motion pictures will be filming in the region.

That is a rarer occurrence than it used to be. This summer alone, three major motions pictures were being filmed in and around town.

Dawn M. Keezer, the director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said the smaller independent film "A New York Heartbeat," which has been filming in Squirrel Hill, will finish shooting in a few weeks, marking an end to Pittsburgh's 2010 movie-making season.

Carl Kurlander, executive director of the Steeltown Entertainment Project, a nonprofit organization focused on developing the entertainment industry in Pittsburgh, said the region had long had a reputation of having a deep bench of players who can make movies happen.

Mr. Kurlander said good locally based film crews were vital and that "because Fred Rogers was here and George Romero was here, we developed a good base." The children's television show host and the zombie movie master kept local crew members busy from the 1960s on. The industry really took off, however, when the 25 percent tax credit was approved in 2007. That credit is on 25 percent of the money spent in Pennsylvania if more than 60 percent of a film's budget is spent in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Kurlander said the credit made the state competitive with other states that have tax credits, but the film crews here give the region an edge.

He said Pittsburgh showed its depth this summer when there were three big-budget pictures filmed here all at the same time. "These were high budget productions with A-list directors and A-list stars," Mr. Kurlander said.

"Literally you could pick and choose what you wanted to work on," Nancy Mosser, the casting agent, said.

The local movie business has been cyclical, meaning people in the business typically pick up other work to make ends meet between movie shoots. That ranges from concerts to local theater to odd jobs. One aspect of having the tax credit is that the production companies have to provide an accounting of how much money was spent in the state to receive the credit, and those books have to be verified by an independent auditor.

Ms. Keezer said the local economic impact for 2009 was $100 million and that the year-to-date impact for 2010 had been $75 million. This summer's big Pittsburgh movies -- "Abduction" with Taylor Lautner, "One for the Money" with Debbie Reynolds and Katherine Heigl, and "Real Steel" with Hugh Jackman -- are scheduled to be out next year.

Last year's movies -- "Unstoppable" with Denzel Washington, "The Next Three Days" with Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, and "Love and Other Drugs" with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway -- open next month.

Just this summer, 115 members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 249 have been driving the stars and the equipment for the movies being filmed locally, the local's president Joseph Rossi Jr. said. Members, who before the start of the recession had been hauling freight, have been hauling movie equipment.

"The last couple of years, it's been a blessing for our members," he said.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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