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Bill would boost film tax credit program

ANNAPOLIS — John Latenser missed his family while working out of state, but the film location manager with 18 years of experience had to make a living.

So after Maryland tax credits for film production companies were eliminated in 2008, the Bethesda resident spent most of three years — including all of 2009 — working in eight different states.

“It really takes a toll on you, it takes a toll on your family,” Latenser said. “I had to do what I had to do.”

Now, with the goal of keeping the production of two television series in Maryland — and allowing people like Latenser to work in the state rather than out of it — a Senate bill would extend the life and increase the amount of a temporary tax credit authorized by the General Assembly for production companies in 2011.

SB 1066, sponsored by Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore County and Howard, increases the amount of total credits to $22.5 million from $7.5 million and extends the program to July 2016 from July 2014.

Kasemeyer chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which heard testimony on the bill Wednesday. No one testified against the measure.

Latenser, who works for the HBO comedy “Veep,” which films in Baltimore, testified that the tax credit allowed him to come home.

Beau Willimon, a Hollywood screenwriter, wants the credit to keep his new show — “House of Cards” — in Maryland.

“Without those incentives, we would not have gone forward to come and shoot in Maryland,” Willimon told the committee.

And if the tax credit program is not increased and extended, the show would not continue filming in the state if production is approved for multiple seasons, he said.

“House of Cards” has a 100,000-square-foot sound stage in Edgewood, but Willimon said the series plans to do “on location” shoots in Baltimore City, Harford County, Anne Arundel County, Caroline County, Howard County and Prince George’s County.

Willimon said the show had already spent $6.5 million in Maryland in pre-production, and will ultimately spend $70 million on just one season of the program, including lodging, food and construction materials.

Bringing productions to Maryland also has an impact on tourism, said Karyn Riley, director of public affairs for Visit Baltimore.

“When films and TV series come to our city they have a very positive impact on the hospitality and tourism industry,” Riley said. “They stay in our hotels, they eat in our restaurants, they use our transportation.”

Hannah L. Byron, assistant secretary of tourism, film and the arts for the Department of Business and Economic Development, said the projected economic impact felt by the state since the tax credit took effect last July is $185 million, including 5,500 hires of local film crew, actors and extras

“House of Cards,” she said, is “the biggest thing we’ve ever seen in the state of Maryland.”

“If the program is not extended, these productions could leave Maryland,” Byron added.

Donna Edwards, secretary-treasurer for the area AFL-CIO, said it was obvious that the tax credit was successful and had brought the industry — and jobs — back to the state.

“This credit worked, and so are they,” Edwards said of Maryland film crew professionals. “They are not here because they are on set. They are working.

“Nothing has ever worked this fast in terms of job creation and economic development.”

David O’Ferrall, secretary-treasurer for the Mid Atlantic Studio Mechanics and Broadcast Technicians union, said the bill is about “creating new opportunities.”

In the 18 months prior to the tax credit being offered in 2011, O’Ferrall said the union lost 138 members. Since, the union has gained 130 members.

If the total amount of credits is increased, it will mean “more jobs coming in and more employment across the board … it helps growth exponentially” he said.

Local film productions provide opportunities for a variety of other Maryland workers, too, said James C. Richardson, Harford County’s director of economic development. Electricians, carpenters and artists are all put to work when a film comes into the state, he said.

“We have a unique workforce … a unique niche in this production arena,” Richardson said. “This bill will strengthen our workforce.”

And if the bill doesn’t pass? Latenser, the Bethesda film location manager, said workers in the film industry will again be forced to search for work outside of Maryland, just like Latenser did for three years.

“They’ll scatter again,” he said. “This bill is keeping Marylanders working in Maryland.”