J.J. Abrams, Mark Burnett, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson were among the big names slated to speak at the 2013 Producers Guild of America “Produced By” Conference, hosted in Los Angeles on June 8-9, but the panel drawing possibly the biggest buzz, and catching the headline in the Los Angeles Times, was the panel entitled “Beyond Hollywood: The Promise of Regional Production Centers,” which featured “300” producer Bernie Goldmann, Lionsgate producer John Dellaverson, and “Promised Land” producer Chris Moore, moderated by Steeltown President and CEO Carl Kurlander.
“Our panel was supposed to be held in a venue with a capacity for 150 people, but there was so much interest in regionalism that our panel discussion was moved to the Zanuck Theater, the same venue where Jerry Bruckheimer and all these other big names were speaking,” Kurlander said. “I was amazed by the interest in the subject matter.”
The reason for the high levels of interest, from Hollywood locals and producers from around the country alike, was simple: the panel addressed the issue at the forefront of everyone in the industry–movies and TV shows are increasingly being made in places other than California, with Pittsburgh as a prime example.
“Everybody knows about tax credits, and certainly the fact that Pennsylvania is taking a run at uncapping their tax credits is very important,” Kurlander said, “but what was great is that we got to talk about the innovative models that we’ve pioneered at Steeltown and in Pittsburgh that have really partnered with Hollywood. We were able to show that it’s not just about the tax credit, that’s part of it, but you also need to figure out different way of funding things and partnering, such as our WQED/Steeltown incubator which funds TV shows filmed at the Fred Rogers Studios.
You need to look beyond tax incentives if you want to have a sustainable industry. This industry is migratory, and if you don’t have a strategic plan with a strategic vision, if you don’t work on developing your local infrastructure, tomorrow there’s going to be a cheaper place to film.”
Longtime Steeltown adviser Goldmann, who ended up producing George Romero’s “Land of the Dead” in Canada before Pennsylvania had competitive incentives, talked about how Pittsburgh learned the hard way that a desire to produce movies and TV shows in a particular city is often outweighed by financial constraints, chiefly cheaper costs of filming in other cities. Steeltown is trying to solve this problem by focusing on building the local film infrastructure and working with partners like the Pittsburgh Film Office, WQED and the local universities. If the current effort to uncap the film tax credits prevails, Pittsburgh will be an even more desirable place to produce films, and the money spent on film production in Pittsburgh will be invested in local talent, ultimately creating a cycle of sustainability. Chris Moore spoke glowingly about his experience filming “Promised Land” in Pittsburgh with a mostly local crew, and New Castle native John Dellaverson shared why Lionsgate has enjoyed filming so many of its films in the region. Fittingly, Goldmann hopes to film his new movie, “The Last Witch Hunter,” which is being produced with Lionsgate, in his hometown.
The success of Pittsburgh, in particular, as a center for production, compared with other cities with similar tax credits, can be contributed in part to Pittsburgh’s unique makeup. Pittsburgh has a disproportionate amount of talent coming from the local colleges and universities, as well as the cultural institutions, and many of those talented individuals have gone on to achieve great success in the entertainment industry. Steeltown and its partners have been able to leverage this strong Pittsburgh-Hollywood connection to help the region become a real player in the entertainment industry.
But Steeltown’s panel at the “Produced By” Conference was not intended to promote the film industry in Pittsburgh. Rather, Pittsburgh was presented as a case study for the great benefits that can stem from film production taking place in any city, as long as that city has a strategic plan to sustain and grow the film industry in that town. The point seemed to strike home, as the headline the next day in the Los Angeles Times read, “A ‘gold rush’ out of L.A. for tax credits,” quoting the panelists and warning California: beware–film production is increasingly headed to places like Atlanta and Pittsburgh. (Read the full article here.)