Hike production incentives, film executives urge Rendell
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New Mexico has become a mecca for moviemakers and it's no secret why: Producers go where the money -- and incentives -- are.
John Dellaverson -- Cites New Mexico's success as an example.
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That's how the so-called "Land of Enchantment" wooed "Wild Hogs," "The Astronaut Farmer" and "3:10 to Yuma," a modern take on the Western starring Russell Crowe, and 16 other projects for 2007.
So the natural question is: What would it take to turn Pennsylvania into another New Mexico or Louisiana, also a hot spot for production? The answer: Better incentives, to be competitive with those states.
That's what Gov. Rendell heard at a meeting in Harrisburg this week with legislators and some high-profile Hollywood participants, including Philadelphia director M. Night Shyamalan and New Castle native John Dellaverson, an entertainment lawyer and Lionsgate producer whose credits include "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and Usher's "In the Mix," partially scripted by his daughter, Cara Dellaverson.
Lionsgate, which had two representatives in Harrisburg, is behind "The Kill Point" series being filmed in Pittsburgh and it's the distributor of such hits as "Fahrenheit 9/11," the Oscar-winning "Crash" and the darkly popular "Saw" franchise.
"At Lionsgate, we have been doing these kinds of deals all over the world and, in particular, in New Mexico," Dellaverson said.
"We've been trying to encourage the governor to enact a program that is very similar to New Mexico, a state where four years ago, there was less than $5 million in film production and last year, there was $450 million in film production, undoubtedly directly as a result of the film tax rebate program."
New Mexico provides a 25 percent refund on direct production expenditures, including labor, that are subject to taxation. Pennsylvania offers a 20 percent film production grant, but the pool of money is capped at $10 million.
"You can't be hoping and praying that somebody says 'I'm going to shoot in Pittsburgh no matter what,' even though the studio's saying, 'But you can't, you got to shoot in New Mexico or Connecticut,' " Dellaverson said yesterday.
"You want to be the other side of the coin, you want people to say, 'Is there any way we can shoot this in Pennsylvania? It's great, we have a credit, there's a great work ethic there, we have a great time, we get our permits as soon as possible.' That's what you want. You want to be in the business, not the wish business."
Dellaverson took time to chat between meetings, talks, coffee and dinners at the Duquesne Club and the New Castle home of his mother, Ann, a retired school administrator who makes authentic Italian pasta (al dente, just the way he likes it).
The 1968 University of Pittsburgh grad, who was speaking at his alma mater yesterday for the first time, has not followed the usual path to Hollywood. The son of a steelworker who died in 1986, Dellaverson logged a memorable summer himself as a foundry worker and started Pitt as an engineering student, on scholarship, and switched to political science.
After the Peace Corps and law school, he worked for the National Labor Relations Board and joined one of the world's largest entertainment firms, in Los Angeles and then in Rome, where he dealt with such luminaries as Sophia Loren and her late husband, Carlo Ponti, and actor Roberto Benigni. More recently, he was a consultant to HBO for its "Rome" series.
Dellaverson, whose wide-ranging experience includes production, distribution, financing, tax shelters, deal-making and even new media (he's an advisory board member of MusicPlusTV.com), calls a boost in incentives a no-brainer that can only make the state more competitive.
He was being squired around by Carl Kurlander, a visiting lecturer at Pitt and co-founder of the Steeltown Entertainment Project. He met Dellaverson when 200-plus expatriates assembled in Beverly Hills for a rendition of "Won't You Be My Neighbor."
"It's clear that people are seeing opportunity here in a more tangible way," Kurlander said. "Everybody's working together. It's not about Philly vs. Pittsburgh, it's the whole state."
Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said yesterday that the incentives are working, as "Kill Point" proves, but they could be better.
"We are thrilled that the governor is working to increase and improve the incentives for the commonwealth. We are working on a 25 percent tax credit, without a cap on it, for the film industry and are very hopeful that our respected leaders in Harrisburg will support this initiative, as they have supported the film industry in the past."
In fact, Gary Miller, a spokesman for Rendell, said yesterday, "The governor is looking into expanding the film tax credit and, because of that, people in the film industry are looking to do additional work in Pennsylvania. We view that as a positive development."
No timetable for such a change has been given.
First Published April 19, 2007 7:23 pm