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The Northeast region of the U.S. has a long history of providing some of the most vibrant filmmaking locations in the world, and 2012 has been no exception. P3 Update takes a look at New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware to see the recipes for the incentives behind the region’s ongoing success in film and television.
The heart of America’s top television shows and memorable movies lies in the bustling, creative metropolis of New York City — 188 films and 140 TV projects were shot on location in New York in 2011 alone, and with 23 primetime TV series currently based in the city, the Big Apple’s entertainment industry is employing over 130,000 New Yorkers. Contributing approximately $7.1 billion to the local economy in 2011 (an increase of over $2 billion since 2002), there are 4,000 ancillary businesses that support production throughout the state’s five boroughs.
One big reason for all the production media activity is the New York State Film Production Tax Credit program, which was raised from 10 percent to 30 percent in 2012 and is currently funded at $420 million per year till 2014. Companies that shoot 75 percent of their projects in the city are also able to capitalize on free advertising in subways, taxi TVs and bus shelters. (For example, a production spending $10 million or more on below-the-line costs would qualify for advertising on up to 40 bus shelters, 500 subway cards and 13,000 taxis.) This, in conjunction with the Made in N.Y. Discount Card program, also helps to lower the cost of production by offering discounts at 1,000 city vendors. More than 30,000 cards have been distributed for participating vendors, including restaurants, transportation, lumber yards, florists, props, postproduction and much more. The Made in N.Y. Discount Card app also helps filmmakers to find participating vendors through the use of smart phone GPS technology.
As the first film commission in the country, the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is a one-stop shop for all production needs, including permits, free exterior locations and free police assistance. The Office currently accepts permit applications online, which must be submitted at least 48 business hours in advance to ensure that permits are processed and parking requests are granted in time. Director David Guinan (John Frum: He Will Come) is currently working in New York on Accidents, a comedy feature about a soon-to-be stepfather who takes his 17-year-old son to meet his biological father without informing anyone that they’re coming. “In New York, it costs $300 for a permit, and you can shut down a whole street,” Guinan reports. “We are dealing with the challenges of shooting with permits while still trying to preserve the look and feel of getting stolen shots.” The filmmaker hopes that NYPD will continue to be cooperative with the challenging shooting process he needs to undertake to complete the film.
In July 2012 Governor Cuomo signed into law the New York State Postproduction Tax Credit, an immediately available, fully refundable, 30 percent (35 percent for Upstate N.Y.) tax credit on postproduction costs. In order to qualify, a project must spend 75 percent of its postproduction costs in New York. This initiative has already attracted the attention of feature films like The Butler (starring Forest Whitaker and directed by Lee Daniels) and Wayfare Entertainment’s Head of Production Jeremy Kipp Walker (It’s Kind of a Funny Story), who reports that several of their internationally based productions plan to return to the Big Apple for post.
New York City also offers over 900,000 square feet of stage space that is available for productions, including Steiner Studios, which recently expanded with five new state-of-the-art soundstages that housed Spider-Man 3, “Damages” and “Boardwalk Empire,” Silvercup Studios with its 18 soundstages booked for shows like “Gossip Girl,” and Kaufman Astoria Studios, which offers a complete broadcast and production complex. Recent productions shot in New York include Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (starring Leonardo DiCaprio), Can a Song Save Your Life? (starring Keira Knightley) and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (starring Jessica Chastain), as well as the TV hits “Girls” and “Person of Interest” and new fall shows “Elementary,” “666 Park Avenue” and “The Following” (starring Kevin Bacon).
Highly regarded as “America in Miniature,” Maryland offers a varied array of landscapes for filmmakers to choose from, including mountains, rolling hills and sandy beaches, as well as colonial and modern architecture that spans centuries. The state’s range of socioeconomic backgrounds also contribute to its cinematic diversity. Maryland’s disparate locales have been featured in many memorable films, including its bucolic countryside in Runaway Bride, inner city grit in “The Wire,” historical backdrops in Gods and Generals, waterfront estates in Wedding Crashers, quaint towns in Tuck Everlasting, big-city vistas in Ladder 49, and hip urban sprawl in Step Up and Step Up 2: The Streets. “Maryland has doubled for our nation’s capital in Live Free or Die Hard, Enemy of the State, Absolute Power and Head of State,” reports Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office. “Two major television productions are presently doubling Washington, D.C. in Maryland: NetFlix’s ‘House of Cards’ and HBO’s ‘Veep’ call Maryland home.” Other recent productions shot in the state include HBO’s Emmy-nominated Game Change and the indie films Jamesy Boy, LUV and Better Living Through Chemistry.
Director Trevor White had a fantastic experience in Maryland while filming Jamesy Boy, a drama about a young gang member who turns his life around in prison. “Maryland truly offered the ideal location and incentives to shoot Jamesy Boy,” says White. “The Film Office couldn't have been more helpful in facilitating many aspects of the production, guiding us to an incredibly smooth shoot. Overall, I think the most impressive aspect to filming in the state was working with the tremendously talented and hardworking crews. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to return to my home state to film my first feature, and I look forward to continuing to work with the family that we have built here in Maryland.” The state is currently geared up to cope with all the cinematic activity, as it possesses a deep crew base with over 650 IATSE members, 3,000 SAG members and film-sensitive Teamsters.
Maryland has a Film Production Employment Act Tax Credit that allows qualified production companies to claim a rebate up to 25 percent of the total direct costs incurred while filming on location in the state. Employees earning $1 million or more are excluded, and the credits are annually appropriated. In order to qualify, productions must incur at least $500,000 in direct costs in the state, and at least 50 percent of filming must take place in Maryland. In addition, the production must have nationwide distribution. A television series may receive a credit of up to 27 percent of qualified direct costs. An exemption from the 6-percent state sales tax is also available, and the total of tax credits issued in a fiscal year cannot exceed $7.5 million.
The small state of New Jersey offers compact geography and stunning diversity. At only 166 miles long and 65 miles wide, it is blessed with mountains, flatlands, forests, swampland and a dazzling shoreline. New Jersey also possesses almost every type of architecture to attract scripts requiring gritty urban environments, picture-perfect suburbs, quaint historical settings or a slice of rural America.
New Jersey’s vast filmography can really map out a person’s history, as one reflects on where they were in life when each movie was released. Films like The Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th, Desperately Seeking Susan, Presumed Innocent, Malcolm X, Clerks, The Devil’s Advocate, Independence Day, As Good As It Gets, A Beautiful Mind, Being John Malkovich and Ocean’s Eleven, as well as the TV shows “Sesame Street,” “Wise Guy” and “Seinfeld” can all take us back to our younger days. And more recent productions, such as “The Sopranos,” “American Idol,” The Wrestler, Michael Clayton, I Am Legend, The Bourne Ultimatum and Julia and Julia, really prove that New Jersey has staying power as a production mecca.
“The state’s crew depth is bottomless and also offers one of the deepest film and television industry talent pools in the world,” reports Steven Gorelick, executive director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission. “Regarding economic incentives, the State of New Jersey does have a 20-percent tax credit program, but, presently, all funds are encumbered through the program’s sunset date in 2015.” The state does offer a 7-percent sales-tax exemption for production-related goods and services procured in New Jersey. Recent films lensing in the state include The Wolf of Wall Street, The Dark Knight Rises, Don Jon’s Addiction (directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and starring Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore), Admission (starring Paul Rudd), God of Love (which recently won an Academy Award for Best Short Live Action Film) and Sleeping with the Fishes.
When it comes to engaging Websites, none can match the home page of the Pennsylvania Film Office. It’s an IT revolution of flipping digital scenery and sound effects that can keep both kids and movie executives occupied for hours. Meanwhile, the state itself has 10 regions that feature just about everything you could create in a screenplay. Pennsylvania’s cozy, storybook towns can easily transport film audiences to a Victorian era while the state also offers big-city action, sprawling countryside, Dutch country roads, tree-lined streams, snow-capped mountains and waterfalls, not to mention one of the prettiest spots along the Great Appalachian Trail. The state has a rich diversity of landscape and resources, especially when the leaves turn in the fall. All this has made it a perfect location for films in every genre, including legendary comedies and post-apocalyptic dramas. Pennsylvania’s historic filmography includes Robocop, The Silence of the Lambs, Wonder Boys, Marley and Me, She’s Out of My League, The Lovely Bones and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
On the incentive front, Pennsylvania offers a 25-percent tax credit to films spending at least 60 percent of their total production budget in the Commonwealth. Projects eligible for film tax credits under the program are feature films, television shows, commercials and pilots intended as programming for a national audience. In addition, film cast and crewmembers staying in a Pennsylvania hotel for 30 or more consecutive days are not obligated to pay the Pennsylvania hotel tax. And except for extraordinary activities, no department or agency of the Commonwealth may charge a fee for the use of state-owned property.
The state’s two major cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have had a momentous run of filmmaking in 2012. In Philadelphia alone, the first half of the year has already secured $380 million in economic impact on the city with films like After Earth (starring Will Smith and directed by M. Night Shyamalan), Dead Man Down (starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace), Paranoia (starring Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford) 1982 and The Optimist. Philadelphia also frequently doubles for New York and Washington, D.C. Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Executive Producer Ron Schmidt recently shot two films, Won't Back Down (starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter and Viola Davis) and Promised Land (written by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski and directed by Gus Van Sant). “I’m a big fan of filming in this city,” says Schmidt. “The state and local officials are excited for productions to be there and go out of their way to make sure we get the support needed. The crews are top notch, [and] the city and surrounding areas supply many different looks, so there is a wide range of options. I’ve had two great experiences so far and look forward to going back in the very near future.” Other films and TV projects shot in Pennsylvania include Jack Reacher (starring Tom Cruise), Out of the Furnace (starring Christian Bale), The Avengers, Elixir, “Political Animals,” “Restaurant Impossible,” “Do No Harm” and season two of “Supah Ninjas.”
From The Dead Poet’s Society and Beloved to its most recent film project American Experience: The Abolitionists, Delaware has always been a strong force in filmmaking, and Film Delaware Director T.J. Healy and Chairman Paul McConnell hope that the state’s busy production trend will continue in the future. Film Delaware is a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the motion picture, television and video game production industries in the state. Organized as a nonprofit through the Delaware Community Foundation, Film Delaware will work with the Delaware Economic Development Office, Delaware Tourism Office, City of Wilmington and other municipalities to provide resources and information to individuals and organizations engaged in these industries.
“Film Delaware will be the first tenant in the new McConnell Johnson Innovation Center at Hercules Plaza,” reports McConnell. His company, McConnell Johnson Real Estate, was one of the main sponsors of the first Delaware screening of Safety Not Guaranteed, an independent romcom starring Wilmington-native Aubrey Plaza. “We are excited to be involved with this event, supporting the Wilmington Drama League, encouraging the revitalization of downtown Wilmington and drawing attention to Delaware as an attractive venue for professional filmmakers,” says McConnell. Indeed, Delaware’s natural beauty, established infrastructure and talented workforce make the state an ideal location for the future entertainment industry projects.
With a wide array of scenery and its highly skilled and plentiful crew and talent, the states of the Northeast are cornering the market on U.S. filmmaking. And if history counts for anything, the popularity of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware is sure to continue over the next decade. But to stay ahead of the game, the Northeast region must implement the right balance of innovative tax incentives to keep producers and directors flooding through its front gates.
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