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Financial incentives boost Md. film industry

ANNAPOLIS — Move over, Los Angeles.

Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin (left), and Ed Harris as John McCain, in a scene from ‘Game Change,’ which was filmed in Baltimore.

Production companies are looking to Baltimore as a backdrop for filming locations — thanks in part to state funding used to lure them to Maryland.

And film industry people say Maryland’s economy is reaping the rewards.

“For Veep, we recreated the entire second floor of the Eisenhower Building,” said John Latenser, stage manager of Veep, an HBO political comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “It takes a lot of lumber, and a lot of supplies … and it was all bought locally.”

Latenser is one of many film industry crewmembers who live permanently in Maryland. Productions like Veep can employ more than 2,000 local extras and technicians to work on set.

But Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, said production companies wouldn’t even consider Maryland without some form of financial incentive, often in the form of grants, tax breaks or rebates.

“Without [incentives], Veep wouldn’t have filmed here,” Gerbes said.

According to data provided by the Maryland Film Office, 2006 was the biggest year on record for films made in Maryland, with an estimated $158 million generated to the Maryland economy from films like Step Up and The Visiting, and season four of The Wire, choosing to shoot in-state.

That same year, The Wire received a $1.6 million grant to film in Maryland, and Step Up received $2 million in state funds. Step Up 2 has been the biggest recipient of state grants, with $3.5 million given to the production in 2008.

Up to $7.5 million per year is up for grabs after Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the Maryland Film Production Act in 2011. Before that, there was no consistency in how much could be allocated to the film industry in any given year.

In 2010, $1 million went to films, down from $4 million in 2009 and 2008, and nearly $7 million in 2007.

Several high-profile productions used Baltimore as a backdrop in the past year, which Gerbes attributes partially to state incentives.

In addition to Veep, Game Change, an HBO movie about Sarah Palin’s vice presidential campaign, was filmed in Baltimore last year, and the upcoming political drama House of Cards will begin filming there next month. Jamesy Boy finished filming in the spring.

Debbie Donaldson Dorsey, director of the Baltimore Film Office, said state funding is recouped through production costs and employment of local technicians, actors and extras. In addition, production materials are usually bought in-state.

Gerbes said “over a thousand” local companies, including hotels, car rental companies, dry cleaners and caterers, benefitted from Veep’s extended stay.

“Every night, we had people from the show. It was terrific,” said Germano Fabiani, owner of Germano’s, an Italian restaurant in the Little Italy section of Baltimore.

“I wish they’d make a show like that every month,” he added.

More than 40 states offer some form of financial incentive for production companies, often in the form of tax breaks or rebates. Some states, like New Mexico and Louisiana, don’t have a yearly cap on how much money is offered to filmmakers.

“Without tax credits, the productions will go elsewhere. That’s just the name of the game now,” Dorsey said.

Starting in the late 1990s, production companies began leaving Los Angeles due to rising costs. Canada became a continental film hotspot because of cheaper Canadian dollars and tax rebates offered to big production companies.

But even before Maryland ramped up its tax credits program, the state was the backdrop for a number of movies, thanks to its geographical diversity and proximity to Washington.

The Wire, Step Up, Wedding Crashers, the Blair Witch Project and Ladder 49 — which featured a cameo from O’Malley, then mayor of Baltimore — were all filmed in Maryland.