Pennsylvania film officials said the state could have more lights, cameras, action and jobs if lawmakers expand the $60 million movie tax credit.
Proof of Pennsylvania's popularity is on the big screen, they contend, pointing to the Philadelphia-based "Silver Linings Playbook" that opens in wide release Wednesday and the Pittsburgh-filmed Tom Cruise movie "Jack Reacher," landing in theaters next month.
Other major motion pictures are on the way, but film offices at both ends of the state said Pennsylvania could host even more productions if officials made an increased, multi-year commitment to the program.
"We're losing the business, and we're out of money. It's extremely frustrating," said Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.
State officials estimated film and TV productions have injected $1.4 billion into the Pennsylvania economy since 2007, based on $300 million in tax credits.
The current incentive essentially offers a 25 percent tax credit to productions that spend 60 percent of their budget in Pennsylvania. Capped at $60 million, the program this year is helping to fund eight feature films, one documentary, eight TV episodes, a pair of TV series and one TV pilot.
The credit needs to be at least $100 million, said Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer. Pennsylvania has two major production centers — Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — and attracts crews to rural areas like Emporium, where the Denzel Washington flick "Unstoppable" shot in 2010, she said.
The state also needs a multi-year program instead of annual allocations, said Keezer. TV series are planned over several seasons and producers "need to know that five years from now we're still going to have a tax credit," she said.
"People want to come to Pennsylvania to shoot," said Keezer. "We just need the support to keep the playing field competitive."
She noted the state is vying against places like New York and Georgia, which offer 30 percent credits. And New York's multi-year program — now at $420 million annually — extends through 2014.
Pennsylvania's tax credit peaked a few years ago at $75 million, but was cut to $42 million during the recession. The incentive rebounded to $60 million for each of the past three years.
Pinkenson wants $150 million. Such a bold commitment would bring in more film crews and encourage related infrastructure investments, such as building sound stages and post-production offices, she said.
"We're as viable an industry as any other major industry that they're trying to attract to the state," said Pinkenson.
An increase would be good news for IATSE Local 489, the studio mechanics union in Pittsburgh, according to business representative Charles "Chip" Eccles. Membership has stagnated after tripling from 2007 to 2010, he said in an email.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said the weak economy means the state continues to face tough funding decisions.
Still, he supports the credit, saying it has a good track record for return on investment. More than 2,100 industry jobs were created in 2010-11, according to the Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees the state film office in Harrisburg.
Opponents of film credits have questioned whether they have appreciable long-term impact. Pileggi said such opposition has lessened in recent years as state reports on the program have become more transparent, listing project names, spending amounts and economic impact.
Still, he cautioned that appropriations are likely to remain tight in the coming years.
"We need to make sure we meet our basic needs," Pileggi said.
Supporters insist Pennsylvania would benefit from being even more film-friendly.
"The Dark Knight Rises" — the latest Batman installment — was shot in Pittsburgh last year and provided a major boost to the local economy, partly by hiring thousands of extras to sit in Heinz Field for a crowd scene, Keezer said. (The blockbuster neither qualified nor applied for tax credits because too much of its budget was spent outside the state, she noted.)
Movies can also promote tourism. "Silver Linings Playbook," starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, was written by a graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia and showcases many iconic locations in the area — much to Pinkenson's delight.
Keezer felt the same way about beautiful footage of Pittsburgh seen in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," a movie starring Emma Watson that came out last month.
"There are still people out there who think we're making steel in downtown," Keezer said. "It's a vibrant, thriving, gorgeous city."