Movie Industry Thriving in Pittsburgh

We love showcasing film offices’ success stories in our blog, especially when it’s about one or in this case - two - of our clients.

It seems Pittsburgh’s competitive film tax credit program has elevated the city on to Hollywood’s sharp radar. The Steel City’s movie industry has been steadily growing in spite of the recession experienced everywhere else in the country.

“We had a great 2009,” said Dawn Keezer, executive director of the Pittsburgh Film Office.

Unstoppable, one of the major Hollywood productions starring Denzel Washington, started filming in Pennsylvania last year. “I guess you could say they used half the state,” said Keezer, filming everywhere from Western Pennsylvania, to State College, to Bradford and Driftwood.

With its budget of $100 million, Unstoppable was the biggest production ever filmed in Pennsylvania. The 20th Century Fox subleased 90% of Mogul Mind facility (a new, 330,000 square feet studio located in an industrial park minutes from downtown Pittsburgh in the historic Strip District) and the production is expected to wrap up in 2010.

Image from Unstoppable (filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) via Google.

Image from Unstoppable (filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) via Google.

The Tony Scott-directed film possibly generates $60 million for Pittsburgh and creates about 250 jobs.

Keezer said that the Pittsburgh Film Office has been working on bringing Unstoppable to the city for the past five years. In 2006, the Film Office even opened a satellite office in Los Angeles where Keezer now resides. She commutes to Pittsburgh at least once a month to make sure business is running smoothly on both ends. “I’ve lost track of how many production teams and directors,” said Keezer on Unstoppable, “but I think this is the fourth iteration. They’ve looked all over the country, and all over the world.” Many other states have been considered, including Michigan due to its generous 42% tax credit, but Pittsburgh won the production over in the end.

“We have great crew depth, enabling us to support four features simultaneously, which is huge,” says Keezer. “We have infrastructure, Island Studios and Mogul Mind. Right now there’s work for both of them and it should continue.”

It’s no surprise then that the movie business has also helped boost Pittsburgh’s employment. George Faber, business agent for the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 489, said that union membership has increased from 98 in 2009 to 257 this year, and will continue to grow to at least 300 by the end of 2010.

Keezer expects 2010 to be another successful year for Pittsburgh since scripts have been coming in to her office on a regular basis these days, with potential work coming from Lion’s Gate,Summit, and 20th Century Fox. Pittsburgh’s success has a lot to do with Pennsylvania’s competitive film tax credit of 25% (ranked as one of the top 10 best programs in the country). “Without the tax credit, there will be no film work in Pennsylvania,” said Keezer. “Our tax credit is more effective than other programs (in the country) because it’s built on the fact that we already have an existing industry here.”

Mike Dolan, owner of Smithfield Street Productions - a local film production company in Pittsburgh, believes there’s more to Pittsburgh’s appeal than its popular film incentives:

Pittsburgh offers much more than a just a low-cost alternative for Hollywood studios. A better term is ‘great value.’ Your dollar goes a lot further here than anywhere else. It’s such a varied look here. You can have the Mexican War Streets in the North Side, or be 45 minutes away on a farm. There’s mountains, rivers—it’s a very good ‘locations’ place. On top of that, the cooperation of everybody, the governments, the film industry people, even down to the people investing in independent films.

It’s always great news for us whenever we hear about a state film incentive’s success story. We’re doubly excited in this case because the Pittsburgh Film Office, as well as the Pennsylvania Film Office, are Reel-Scout clients.

For more details, read the California Chronicle article here. 


Banner image via Google.

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