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Film Industry Hoping for Incentives Renewal, More Projects

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For the Maryland Film Industry Coalition (MFIC) and its supporters, the drill was the same during Session 2016 as it’s been, seemingly, every year.

That’s meant meeting in Annapolis, often with a big group in tow, to explain to various legislators how production creates jobs, spurs commerce and results in numbers that make the folks in the comptroller’s office smile.

In doing so, the MFIC offers data, from the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, that indicates that the real return on every dollar spent on production in Maryland is approximately $1.10 (or $3, when including multipliers); then the industry powers that be, economists, business owners, independent contractors and others explain that the ongoing production of shows like the current Netflix series “House of Cards” and HBO’s “VEEP” (which shoots interiors in Columbia) make that happen.

For this year’s legislative session, with the current law set to expire at the end of fiscal 2016, the MFIC filed House Bill 753/Senate Bill 905. It requests a $25 million annual tax incentive credit limit for productions that shoot in Maryland for fiscal 2017 through 2019.

That amount will keep the shows that are currently in production moving right along, but what’s also needed when marketing the state to production companies, said Debbie Donaldson Dorsey, director of the Baltimore Film Office and vice chair of the MFIC, is for consistency in the state’s offerings as the program grows — and as Netflix, for instance, would like to start shooting more shows here.

“It’s important for Maryland to establish and maintain a film incentive program with certainty; certainty of law, certainty of process and certainty of funding,” Donaldson Dorsey said. “We are working with leaders in Annapolis to establish and maintain a film incentive program that provides that certainty and predictability.”

Hollywood producers need those traits. So does the local crew base, many of whom had to work out-of-state for years, like special effects artist Bill Catania, until “House of Cards” and “VEEP” put down stakes in Maryland. Now Catania, among many other industry veterans, is hoping the state takes advantage of its momentum.

“ ‘House of Cards’ was a pilot program for the Netflix on-demand service,” he said. “Netflix was successful and wants to create several more shows. If we up the ante and keep increasing the incentive fund, it would lead to big things.”

And that, said Chip Elgert, is the key to long-term success for the film industry and the state. Elgert, the business agent for the Baltimore-based Teamsters Local 355, said that the various productions “all love shooting here,” but need to see more commitment from the state.

“We have a strong crew base, and easy access to not only goods and services, but to natural scenery and backgrounds that are in demand when shooting various programs,” said Elgert. “However, what the Hollywood production community really wants is an available, growing and consistent tax incentive program here in Maryland that would enable it to establish much stronger roots here.

“Hollywood likes doing business in Maryland,” he said, “and they want to do it long term.”