State film offices feeling ax

Film commissions get no respect. At least, that’s the perception.

“It’s unfortunate that some state legislatures have such a shortsighted approach to something that generates income,” complained Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office.

New Jersey’s Film Commission can attest to that. The state’s projected 2004 budget doesn’t include funding for the film office despite a recent production slate that has included “Far From Heaven,” “Analyze This” and sequel “Analyze That,” “It Runs in the Family” and “Anger Management,” said Steve Gorelick, associate director of the commission.

Jersey bloom

While New Jersey is experiencing a deep fiscal deficit, the commission asserts that it has overcome the aftermath of 9/11, runaway production and the economy, contributing a production revenue stream of $70 million on its now-defunct $406,000 annual budget.

Pittsburgh’s office had a near-death experience last year and now depends on the revenue generated from its Lights, Glamour, Action Oscar party fund-raiser to keep its lights on.

Last year’s gala, attended by the city’s movers and shakers, garnered $120,000 compared with this year’s $60,000. The four-employee, 501c3 nonprofit office had operated with a $400,000 budget that, until recently, was derived from Allegheny County’s hotel-motel tax. But construction of the city’s two new sports stadiums and convention center absorbed the funds to defray the cost of bonds.

Keezer doesn’t minimize the importance of the new facilities but would appreciate support for an office that has attracted feature pics such as “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Inspector Gadget” and “Wonder Boys.” TV has also been a mainstay, with segments of “The Guardian,” “The West Wing,” “City Confidential” and “As the World Turns” lensing in the area.

The office also conducted a study that showed for every dollar spent to lure production, the city reaped a $45 return.

While this year the state picked up 25% of the Pittsburgh Film Office tab, Keezer says she spends more time fund-raising than luring production. “We need money for marketing in what has become a global industry to remain competitive,” said Keezer, who would like the studios to weigh in on the importance of the film commissions.

Texas film commissioner Tom Copeland also sees the need for studio support to boost state financial support. Operating with a 12% cut in budget, the Texas office will not be attending Locations Expo this year, electing to concentrate its travel budget on visiting filmmakers scouting the massive state’s terrain.

Prod’n slowdown

“We started the year strong with ‘Spy Kids 3’ and ‘The Alamo’ filming, but with the war and the economy, we’re not getting as many calls,” Copeland said.

Projects to date have generated $100 million in production revenue that less than last year at the same time.

Craig Rice, executive director of the Minnesota Film and TV Board, bemoaned the costly elimination of the state’s so-called snowbate rebate program. “Dreamcatcher,” which wanted the snowy location, two additional movies and a cabler went to Canada with the incentive’s demise, a $66 million loss in production revenue. The board’s public funding is also at risk.

A drop in film production could cost the state its infrastructure of companies and residents employed in film, TV commercials and corporate media.

Productions to date have included the “Mighty Ducks,” “Grumpy Old Men” and its sequel and Tim Allen’s “Joe Somebody.”

* * *

Sweden is participating in its first Locations Expo, introducing a multiyear program spearheaded by Consul Anita Ekman to encourage U.S.-Swedish productions.

The Consulate General of Sweden, Los Angeles, will host symposium “Swedish Film: Going Global,” a component of a program implemented in cooperation with the Sweden Film Commission, the Swedish Film Institute and the Swedish Film Industry.

Helmer Roger Corman and producer Julie Corman will participate along with Sweden’s Peter Possne, CEO and co-founder of Sonet Film (“Ransid,” “Together,” “Lilya 4-Ever”) in addition to West Sweden Film’s Tomas Eskilsson (“Dogville”) and helmer Jonas Akerlund (“Spun”).

As an incentive, a Special Film Package, which includes a 40% hotel discount, free local transportation, restaurant discounts and other amenities, will be offered by the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council to U.S. filmmakers who visit Sweden.

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