Do Not Enter: Local TV & Film Industry Lags Under Weight Of State Budget Impasse

Dec 15, 2015

Pittsburgh has already lost one TV show and might soon lose two more and a feature film if the budget impasse isn't resolved quickly, said Pittsburgh Film Office Director Dawn Keezer.
Credit Work the Angles / Flickr

When North Carolina discontinued its film tax credit at the start of 2015, the television series Banshee - set in fictional Banshee, Pa. - moved production from that state to western Pennsylvania for its final season.

“That’s how fickle the film industry is. They will go where the money is,” said Mike Matesic, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 489, which represents 400 audio engineers, construction workers, electricians, grips and other film workers in the Pittsburgh region.

Due to the budget impasse, Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin cannot legally approve any future disbursements of the $60 million film tax credit. Legislators are now nearly six months overdue.

“We have a stack of finished film tax credit applications from potential projects that would like to be shooting in southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office. “The total is more than $200 million in budget for these several projects. Those applications cannot be signed.”

In 2015, with Banshee and the new ABC show Downward Dog filming in Pittsburgh, Matesic said the alliance hired 30 more crew members in order to meet demand for workers.

American Gods, a fantasy series based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman, was slated to begin “crewing up” in January, according to Matesic. Now, he said, they’ve moved production to Toronto.

“In September, we had 100 percent employment in our industry between two shows,” reads a letter that IATSE is urging its members to send to legislators. “Now there is 100 percent unemployment, with a bleak foreseeable future.”

According to Keezer, between 8,000 and 10,000 people in southwestern Pennsylvania make their living working on or providing services to films and television productions; statewide that figure is more than 20,000 people.

Keezer said $100 million has been brought into the Pittsburgh region from such productions every year for the last five years, now topping $1 billion since the creation of the Pittsburgh Film Office in 1990.

“It’s a growing business, and people really want to come to southwestern Pennsylvania to film, and right now we’ve put a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign across the front of the state line,” Keezer said.

Keezer said if the budget stalemate isn’t resolved quickly, the state will likely lose another television series and a feature film, though she wasn’t at liberty to talk about the productions because the contracts have not yet been finalized.

“What we’re imploring the legislators to do is to sign the budget, not only for the film industry but for everybody else in the commonwealth,” she said. “This is crazy. It’s gone on way too long and it’s hurting way too many people.”