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Is Pittsburgh The New Hollywood?

Pittsburgh is on track to become a major player in the entertainment industry, generating jobs and revenue. But there are challenges to realizing this dream.

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In Warrior, Tom Hardy stars as Tommy, an ex-Marine who trains to become an MMA fighter and eventually lands in the ring. This scene took place in the Petersen Events Center, located in Oakland.

Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Lionsgate


We Give, and We Get

Pennsylvania’s tax-incentive program for filmmakers, launched in 2004, was one of the first in the nation. And with the addition of new legislation in 2007, it’s become one of the country’s most competitive, according to Keezer. It’s the main reason that the region is currently so popular with Hollywood (Pittsburgh is one of the top two production centers in the state).

Here’s how it works: Producers apply in advance, committing to spending 60 percent of their budget on eligible purchases here in Pennsylvania. They pay taxes—sales, payroll and so on (no tax exemptions)—while working here and get no money upfront.

Drew Levinson, a native Pittsburgher, works closely with the producers of visiting films, and says he routinely connects incoming productions with everything from florists and caterers to lumber yards.

After the project is completed and all expenses have been evaluated by an independent auditor, the filmmaker can then submit paperwork to be reimbursed by the state for 25 percent of the money spent here. The local businesses and residents keep all that they were paid.

Just how big is that money?

According to Keezer, the three star-driven films that came in 2009 hired a total of 633 local crew members. They spent more than $1 million on car rentals, more than $1.7 million on construction supplies and more than $1.2 million on local groceries and catering supplies. They also paid more than $1.4 million to local people and businesses for use of locations.
And the total number of hotel rooms paid for by the three productions was 40,159.

Since July 2007, the tax-incentive legislation has increased film-related spending in southwestern Pennsylvania by more than $78 million, according to Steeltown Entertainment Project. This Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, founded in 2003, connects local filmmakers to entertainment-industry leaders with ties to this region. Steeltown is a major engine behind developing the region’s film industry.

Also, film production also has been a boon for local actors’ wallets. This summer, more than 500 extras were hired to populate a scene at PNC Park for Abduction.

Local production also gives non-union actors here the coveted chance to earn their Screen Actors Guild membership, says Pittsburgh-based casting director Nancy Mosser.

And some of the least glamorous jobs are the most lucrative: More than 100 Teamsters from Local 249 drove full-time for film productions in 2010, transporting supplies to the appropriate location.

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