Durango’s non-traditional incentives

Commission offers Lear jets, full gov't support

Some film commissions don’t offer traditional incentives.

“The Durango (Mexico) Film Commission and its governor flew us here,” said “DragonBall” exec producer Tim Van Rellim, referring to 20th Century Fox execs and star Chow Yun-Fat.

The feature, produced by Stephen Chow and written and directed by James Wong, also stars Justin Chatwin and recently wrapped in Durango.

“Like most commissions, we track upcoming productions, but instead of the usual incentives, we send a Lear jet to pick up producers and directors to see our locations at no charge,” said Sergio Gutierrez, head of the Durango Film Commission. “We also offer the use of a helicopter for scouting and shooting at no cost.”

Productions get the full support of Durango’s Gov. Ismael Hernandez, who meets with filmmakers and cuts through state and federal bureaucracy on customs, immigration, etc.

Gutierrez, who uses his knowledge as a former producer to anticipate production needs, said the commission works side by side with producers to meet production needs, visiting sets regularly, closing streets with minimum delays and providing hotel discounts.

“It’s a completely viable destination offering a nonbureaucratic environment without security concerns,” added Van Rellim, who also lauded Durango’s economic advantages and the “very professional” crew, the majority of whom were Mexican.

“DragonBall,” based on the Japanese comics/cartoon/videogame series, was shot in an abandoned Jeans Trousers factory with the cooperation of the Durango governor’s office and its commission; 20th Century Fox adapted the 1,000-foot-long, 250-foot-wide turn-key facility, built sets and created a backlot to shoot exteriors. Durango’s scenic locations provided the backdrop for the pic’s Far East futuristic world.

Westerns, once a film staple of the locale, are no longer prevalent. Features such as Fox’s 1954 pic “White Feather,” starring a young Robert Wagner; “The Tall Men,” starring Clark Gable; John Wayne starrer “The Sons of Katie Elder,” and numerous other films involving Hollywood notables such as Sam Peckinpah, Burt Lancaster and Jack Nicholson made Durango a thriving film destination. Durango was also home to the directorial debut of Sidney Poitier who assumed the reins for Columbia’s “Buck and the Preacher.”

Seeking to reinvent itself, the local government has plans in motion to create other production facilities.

“We have more than 53 years of film experience. Now we are building on that history,” added Gutierrez.

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Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich reported 2007 film revenue of $155 million — an all-time record and up 80% over 2006. The governor attributes this success to the 2003 enactment of the state’s film tax credit.

In 2000 Illinois began to experience a mass exodus of showbiz, triggering all-time low revs of $23 million in 2003, as other states began enacting film incentives.

“Since we enacted the film tax credit in 2003, production in Illinois has surpassed record levels,” Blagojevich said. “There are over 40 states that provide film incentives, including Wisconsin and Michigan, so it’s vital that we continue offering a tax credit that will help us remain competitive and maintain Illinois as a viable option to major production sites like Los Angeles and New York.”

Film production in the state last year generated more than 26,500 hires — a 110% increase over 2006 — thanks to features that included “The Dark Knight,” Angelina Jolie-Morgan Freeman starrer “Wanted,” Vince Vaughn starrer “Fred Claus” and “Meet the Browns,” with Angela Bassett. TV productions included “ER” and “My Boys.”

“With the recent economic downturn and climbing unemployment rates, it is vital that we keep the film tax credit alive to keep its job-creating momentum in Illinois,” said Jack Lavin, director of the Illinois Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.