Casting directors in Pennsylvania are pushing lawmakers to lift a cap on the state’s film and television tax credit program, which proponents claim could bring more unionized entertainment industry jobs to the state.
Most of the work available to actors in the commonwealth is nonunion despite several high-profile film and TV projects filming there in recent years. Philadelphia-area natives Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan filmed portions of their feature “After Earth” at Sun Center Studios, which is just south of the city, while “Silver Linings Playbook,” the USA Network miniseries “Political Animals,” and NBC’s short-lived “Do No Harm” also shot in the City of Brotherly Love. Pittsburgh has also played host to productions including the Tom Cruise feature “Jack Reacher” and “Abduction,” which starred Taylor Lautner.
This year filming has dropped off since the annual funding allocation for the program, which now sits at $60 million, dried up in January. That’s left local talent relying on work in theater, commercials, voiceover and corporate training videos, most of which is nonunion.
Part of the challenge for Pennsylvania is that it borders New York, where producers can access a tax credit program with $420 million in incentives per year. Casting directors say that if lawmakers in Pennsylvania lift the cap on their program, it could be “huge” for local actors and other entertainment industry professionals.
“It could change everything for us,” Diane Heery, of Philadelphia-based Heery Casting, told Backstage.
Local actors are usually able to get featured and extra roles in productions based in Pennsylvania, said Heery, who is helping lead the industry’s lobbying effort. “I would say half, sometimes two-thirds, depending on the size of the project, are local people.”
The entertainment industry has a powerful ally in state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who this month introduced legislation that would uncap the commonwealth’s Film Production Tax Credit Program.
To qualify for the existing program, a production must incur at least 60 percent of its production expenses in the state. The amount of the credit, which is transferable, is equal to 25 percent of qualified production expenses. Up to $15 million in compensation for principal actors may count toward qualified film production expenses.
Lawmakers have until June 30, the end of the current session, to pass the bill. If that happens, it may mean SAG-AFTRA members in the state will have more opportunities. “It should change things for the union talent, if the [uncapping] gets approved,” said Heery. “The bigger projects are union but not as plentiful.”
But Kathy Wickline, of Philadelphia-based Kathy Wickline Casting, questioned whether a boost in the incentive would mean more work for local actors. “It doesn’t mean much change for [local production companies] that are filming commercials and corporate training films,” said Wickline, who teaches a seminar called “Never Too Late,” which helps older performers find work. “Most actors in this area are in their 20s to 50s and have regular jobs.”
Having a second job can be an asset, particularly in Philadelphia, where many pharmaceutical commercials and medical industry training videos are filmed. “We’re always looking for doctors and nurses in one form or another,” said Susan Gish of the Philadelphia Casting Co.