This is not Philly. These shots are from Glasgow in 2011, on a set meant to look like Philadelphia for 'World War Z.'

This is not Philly. These shots are from Glasgow in 2011, on a set meant to look like Philadelphia for 'World War Z.'

Helen Hwang

Philly’s Film Office will rally for more tax credits

Pennsylvania offers film producers $60 million total each year in tax credits, and there are concerns even that money could go away.

This is not Philly. These shots are from Glasgow in 2011, on a set meant to look like Philadelphia for 'World War Z.'

This is not Philly. These shots are from Glasgow in 2011, on a set meant to look like Philadelphia for 'World War Z.'

Helen Hwang
Cassie Owens, Reporter/Curator

The Greater Philadelphia Film Office is keeping track of movies and television shows that were meant to shoot here, and didn’t. World War Z, The Bourne Legacy, House of Cards and American Hustle are on their list. The office contends that Pennsylvania lost these projects because there weren’t enough tax credits to entice them. With anxieties that the state’s film tax credit program could be lost entirely in Pennsylvania’s regularly heated budget talks, the office is organizing a rally in support of the city’s film industry for Saturday.

Pennsylvania offers film producers $60 million total each year in these tax credits. They were created through law in 2007, under then-Gov. Ed Rendell. Qualifying projects can gain tax credits for 25 percent of expenses, but said productions are required to do 60 percent of their shooting in-state. Critics scrutinize the payoff that a cash-strapped state receives from the program already.

Director M. Night Shyamalan, Funny or Die comedian Tommy Pope, Pa. Sen. Vincent Hughes and City Councilman Mark Squilla, among others, are set to appear at the rally. Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office,  said they selected the front of the Art Museum as their location since it’s an example for what film can do for the city’s landmarks: “Obviously, they’re called the Rocky steps.”

Pinkenson argues that Pennsylvania is already losing film and TV projects to states with uncapped tax credits, like Georgia and Massachusetts. Workers, too. Pinkenson explained that many film professionals of different crafts— set designers, costume designers or writers— may opt to leave Philly temporarily for a shoot, but later relocate permanently to secure work more steadily.

“Many of them are leaving and moving away. That can’t be good for Pennsylvania’s economy,” she said. “These are family-sustaining wages. This is a really middle class industry. Heaven knows we need to grow the middle class.”

Critics argue that rural taxpayers don’t see those benefits as evenly. The Legislative Budget and Finance Office’s most recent report on the tax credit was released in 2009. Here’s a key highlight, emphasis ours:

Although the state and local taxes generated by the $524.6 million in total economic impact of the approved projects is $17.9 million, the industry as a whole brings the state and local governments $62.7 million in revenues from taxes, fees and permits. While there is a net fiscal loss when comparing the net present cost of the Film Tax Credit program ($58.2 million) to the taxes generated by productions directly receiving tax credits ($17.9 million), there is a net fiscal gain to the Commonwealth of $4.5 million when considering all of the revenues generated by the entire industry.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s most recent report on the tax credits covers the 2015-16 fiscal year. The report noted that since the program’s inception, $3.65 billion in economic activity has been generated.

This past January, Public Source published an investigation on the use of the film tax credits. Production companies are able to sell their tax credits, and according to that report, 99 percent of credits awarded since the program’s start have been sold.

Officials at film commissions in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh maintain Pennsylvania isn’t a competitive shooting location, and that actually more tax credits are needed to make it one.

Pinkenson wrote frankly in an email: “The entire film world knows how limited our PA tax credits are, and once the word gets out that we’re out of money in the program, we don’t even know what we’ve lost because the filmmakers don’t bother to call us.”

Cutting the program would provoke too serious of a loss, she said.

It’s “the most important stimulus for any filmmaker to come and work in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.” she said.”The civic pride— it’s something that money can’t buy, but tax credits sure can.”

The rally will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, in front of the Art Museum.