Pittsburgh union serving TV, film production looking for lots of help

A run of movie projects and two television series making Pittsburgh home have pushed the region’s film crew base to an all-time high, with the union looking to add members.

“We are having a shortage of film-industry carpenters,” said Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office. “Right now, we are so busy. And there is more work coming.”

Cinemax this week began shooting Season 4 of its series “Banshee,” which moved to Western Pennsylvania from North Carolina. Sony Pictures Television will start shooting its new series “Outsiders” at 31st Street Studios in Lawrenceville in May, and feature film “American Pastoral” — starring and to be directed by Ewan McGregor — arrives this fall.

IATSE Local 489, the local studio mechanics union for film and television workers, added 38 members this month to bring its ranks to 350.

“That is the highest ever,” said Chip Eccles, the union’s local business representative who is working as a construction supervisor on “Outsiders.”

The union needs up to 50 more people to meet demand, Eccles said.

“We need 20 to 30 people right now. If you add a feature (film) on top of that, we will need even more,” he said. “We want to have as many people available as possible for when these film and television shows come.”

Eccles said they are looking for carpenters with experience, even if they’ve never worked on television or movie projects.

“We can train them for how it is done in the movie industry,” he said.

Six films shot in Western Pennsylvania in the past year are set to be released by Christmas, and direct spending from television and film projects shot here since 1995 is approaching $1 billion, Keezer said.

Her office commissioned a study on the economic impact the industry has had on the region. The report should be completed in May or June, said Keezer, who is testifying Wednesday before lawmakers in Harrisburg on Pennsylvania’s film tax credit program.

“We are growing because of the tax credit,” Keezer said. “Now we need more of them.”

The state film tax credit program was revamped in 2007, with a limit set of $75 million per year. That amount has been reduced to $60 million annually.

Tax credits are exhausted for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

About 40 states offer financial incentives for television and film projects, with California set to raise its annual allotment from $100 million to $330 million to woo back lost work.

Several states, however, are rethinking that strategy, including Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan — a state that lost productions because it replaced an uncapped tax incentive program that paid nearly $400 million to film companies from 2008 to 2012.

Michigan’s incentives have yo-yoed between $25 million and $50 million a year, with some lawmakers there trying to end the program.

North Carolina lawmakers in January scrapped the state’s film tax credit, which provided $61 million in rebates to production companies last year. Now, the state provides an annual $10 million grant fund for such projects.

Since the change, FOX moved Season Three of its series “Sleepy Hollow” to Atlanta, and “Banshee” set up in Pittsburgh.

The film union in North Carolina reports that it has lost about 20 percent of its 4,000-member crew base.

Several of those members have ended up in Western Pennsylvania, Eccles said. Two permanently relocated.

“Sustaining this growth relies on the tax credits,” Eccles said. “Look at what happened in North Carolina and Detroit, Michigan. You can see the direct correlation.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

Six movies shot in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania are scheduled to be released by the end of the year. The films and their anticipated release dates:

• “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl,” 2015 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury and Audience Award winner; June 12

• “Southpaw,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams and Forest Whitaker; July 24

• “The Last Witch Hunter,” starring Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood and Michael Caine; Oct. 23

• “Fathers and Daughters,” starring Russell Crowe, Aaron Paul, Amanda Seyfried and Jane Fonda; late October for Italian premiere, U.S. release to be determined

• “Love the Coopers,” starring Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Olivia Wilde, Marisa Tomei, Amanda Seyfried, Ed Helms and Alan Arkin; Nov. 13

• “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks; Dec. 25

Read more: http://triblive.com/business/headlines/8215440-74/film-million-tax#ixzz3Y6e4lWCK



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