A long time ago in a town that was then far from anywhere I saw Hans Solo in person. Well I saw the back of some big guy, dressed in Amish Clothes, from about 300 yards away and everybody said it was Hans Solo. For those that may have been in another galaxy Hans Solo was actor Harrison Ford’s break out role in the Star Wars franchise.
I was in the tiny hamlet of Strasburg in Lancaster County. Ford was making ‘Witness.’ That movie with its scenes of lovely Lancaster County and landmark settings in Philadelphia would solidify his career. It should have been the start of major movie productions in Pennsylvania but it would be years later that technology would make the state a fairly regular player in major motion picture productions.
The Keystone State has hosted other internationally acclaimed productions. Sylvester Stalone’s ‘Rocky’ series with major roles for The City of Brotherly Love and Tom Hanks with Denzel Washington probably didn’t improve the image of the city’s lawyers but ‘Philadelphia’ did have some great shots of the city.
A major factor driving the momentum of film production in the Keystone State is the success of a Chester County resident, producer M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan’s work includes his signature hit ‘Signs.’ Starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix the movie highlights the beauty of Bucks County’s countryside. ‘Signs’ took in an estimated $425 million world wide at the box office. A lot of people around the world got to see some of the finest landscapes in this state through that film.
There are a lot of people involved in making major motion pictures. The audio people, camera crews, set designers, producers, directors and, of course, movie stars. When they come on location in Pennsylvania they need to eat, sleep and shop. They pay sales and wage taxes. The sets they design are built by local workers. Shyamalan’s current production ‘The Last Airbender’ is expected to generate $78 million in sales in metropolitan Philadelphia. Part time Chester County resident, Academy Award Winner Ernest Borgnine, just completed a film in central Pennsylvania. These movies showcase the state around the world in ways that we can’t even imagine.
Two years ago Governor Rendell pushed through Pennsylvania’s Film Tax Credit Program. Each year it allows movie production companies to share up to $75 million in tax credits when 60% of production takes place in the state. Blaming the global economic crisis, rather than the extravagant spending in Harrisburg these last 8 years, facing a deficit projected at $3 to $5 billion, there are critics of the tax credit. Claiming taxpayers are subsidizing movie stars some in Harrisburg want it killed.
If the General Assembly does that the state would be sending international film makers the message that in Pennsylvania its Lights! Camera! Then cut, because the movie revenue in this state would likely end up on cutting room floors.
With major film studios planned for Montgomery and Delaware Counties, stars like Borgnine, Gibson, Hanks and Washington working here, we can’t lose. The Film Tax Credit Program is working. The hope is that someday it brings the realization to Harrisburg that more tax credits and real tax cuts for business in the Keystone State is the right script for job creation.
Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research; a Harrisburg based non-profit educational foundation. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations through out Pennsylvania. He can be reached at [email protected]