“Rocky” isn’t the only movie in town anymore.
In fact, the local entertainment scene (let’s just call it “Phillywood,” shall we?) has grown greatly since the ’80s and ’90s when only a handful of projects got filmed on a regular basis in Philadelphia. Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, estimates now that 20 to 30 projects are going on “at the same time all the time.”
But it’s still not as much as Pinkenson believes the region could handle. With our rivers, historical buildings, prisons and college campuses, the city offers plenty of good settings. Tax credits, enacted in 2004, helped popularize Philadelphia for film producers, but Pinkenson argues there’s not enough money to spread around.
So here’s Billy Penn’s look at the state of filming in Philly, how it reached this point and where it could go.
What type of projects are happening in Philadelphia these days?
You’ve probably read about “Creed.” Shooting for this “Rocky” sequel has been going on since January. Other projects for the month of March included several commercials, a music video and few TV projects. In recent months, other feature films being shot here have included lower-budget titles like horror movies “Bloodrunners” and “American Exorcist.”
More than 75 feature films have been at least partially shot in Philadelphia since 2000. You can see a comprehensive list here.
In addition to filming, Pinkenson says several local companies do pre- and post- production for reality TV shows in Philadelphia.
What Philadelphia locations are often featured in movies or TV shows?
Pinkenson says some of the favorite locations are City Hall, Fairmount Park, 30th Street Station, the Rocky Steps, the stadiums, the area around Independence Hall and South Philly, for what Pinkenson calls a gritty vibe. Universities are also popular, particularly the University of Pennsylvania if producers are lucky enough to get University approval. “Everybody wants to shoot at Penn,” Pinkenson says. “Most don’t get to shoot there.” Pinkenson says Bryn Mawr, Drexel, Temple and Swarthmore are much more favorable for allowing projects to be shot on campus.
How does Philadelphia compare to other major cities when it comes to filming?
Decently. California, New York, Louisiana and Georgia are generally considered the leaders for film and TV production, with many other locations up for debate following behind. Pinkenson says Pennsylvania and Philadelphia as a whole make the top 10 domestically but could rate higher.
How could it get better?
By having better tax breaks. Every year, Pennsylvania offers a 25 percent tax credit to film projects that spend 60 percent or more of their overall budget in state. But the cap for the entire state is set at $60 million. Once the $60 million dries up in a year, films can’t get a tax break.
The states we’re up against are states like New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Illinois and Georgia. New York’s cap is $420 million. Louisiana, Georgia, Massachusetts and Illinois are uncapped.
For Philadelphia, Pinkenson says, the amount available for tax credits is essentially $30 million. Pittsburgh (“The Dark Knight,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” etc.) commands a great deal of attention for filming, too, so the two cities essentially split the $60 million in tax credits.
So Philadelphia loses out on business?
Yep. Pinkenson says the funding from the tax credits dries up about halfway through the year every year. One example is “American Hustle.” Producers originally wanted that movie, which starred Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper, to be filmed in Philadelphia (hell, it’s pretty much set here, and in Camden across the river) but production went to Boston because of preferable tax credits.
Why are the tax credits capped at $60 million?
The cap went from $10 million at its inception in 2004 to $75 million in 2007. Because of the recession the available tax credits went down to $42 million in 2009. They were supposed to rise to $60 million for 2010-11 and then back to $75 million the next year, but the cap has stayed at $60 million. They probably won’t rise for a while, either.
In 2013, then state-Senator Dominic Pileggi introduced legislation that would have uncapped Pennsylvania’s tax credits. He argued expanding the film industry would create more opportunities for working class jobs, like caterers and carpenters. From 2007 to 2012, the program has been credited with creating 19,000 jobs.
But nobody ever voted on Pileggi’s legislation. Similar bills have also flopped. Governor Tom Wolf kept the tax credits at $60 million in his budget this year, and they’ll stay at $60 million until 2018, unless they’re reduced.
Pinkenson says offering more tax credits would lead to more films being shot here and therefore more money and jobs and also the growth of studios.
Are there studios right now?
There are four in our area: Sun Center Studios in Delaware County, Center City Video and Philadelphia Soundstages/Invincible Pictures LLC in Philly and QVC Inc./Studio Park in Chester County. Films that shoot there get an additional 5 percent tax credit on top of the 25 percent. QVC inc. does, well, QVC stuff. Center City Video does TV and film for many local companies. Philadelphia Soundstages has done “Limitless,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and documentaries for ESPN’s “30 for 30.” Sun Center Studios has done Will Smith’s “After Earth,” “Paranoia,” and the to-be-released “Franny,” starring Richard Gere.
Who’s against uncapping the film industry?
Many people for many reasons. Free market hardliners argue that no industry should be getting tax credits out of fairness for all of them. Plus the whole budget deficit thing isn’t exactly helping the argument to expand tax credits, and research has shown that Pennsylvania doesn’t really get enough monetary return on the money they’re spending for those tax credits.Also, critics say the thousands of jobs that get created have been temporary jobs.
Hey I want to be involved in this movie stuff. What should I do?
Pinkenson says there’s no call to action right now in terms of gathering support for expanding tax credits. But you could do something that’s pretty cool: List your property as being allowed for a filming location. Contact the Greater Philadelphia Film Office for more information.
What about being an extra?
You can do that, too. Your best bet is probably searching for “extra” in job opportunities on the Greater Philadelphia Film Office’s website. A handful of opportunities have been posted this month.