I was waiting for Dad at the dentist’s office this afternoon — there’s a root canal in his future — and I picked up the May 2010 issue of Baltimore magazine because a story about Maryland’s film industry caught my eye. Not too long ago, the Baltimore-Washington area was third in the country after Los Angeles and New York for film and TV production. However, thanks to Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and a Democratic-majority legislature full of believers in high taxes and big government — who also, disastrously, have no comprehension whatsoever of the concept of competition, or the remotest inkling that they were in one where the film business was concerned AND WINNING — Maryland’s film industry has been almost completely destroyed (boldfacing mine):
“You just feel like screaming,” says Pat Moran, Emmy Award-winning casting director for productions like The Wire and Liberty Heights, from her Canton office. “What they’ve done is taken a viable industry and they have managed to make it go away. I cannot tell you how many people [employed by the film industry] have moved out of town or taken work somewhere else.”
The targets of Moran’s ire are the state legislature and Governor Martin O’Malley, who control the funding level for the incentive program. For the coming fiscal year, the total incentive budget will remain steady at $1 million. In comparison, nearby Philadelphia, a city with similar architecture and neighborhoods to Baltimore, provides $42 million in funds, soon to increase to $60 million.
“If we had the support of the Governor,” Moran continues, “we’d have our incentive package. If I want to retire, it’s up to me to retire and close my shop. It’s not up to a government to run me out of business.”
Shaun Adamec, the Governor’s Press Secretary, calls the cuts “unfortunate” but “necessary.”
“The fact is, we’re working inside of a budget under the most challenging economic times since the Great Depression,” Adamec says, noting that O’Malley originally wanted to keep the tax incentives program funded at $2 million for the current fiscal year, before the legislature halved it. “Obviously it’s not as much as we’d want to put in that fund,” says Adamec, “[but] we need to make the tough choices in order to balance the budget.”
There are many in the film industry though, who see this philosophy as short-sighted, noting that the state is more than compensated for its initial investment.
“It’s like, if I gave you one dollar and you gave me back 20 cents, you’d still have made 80 cents. But the state doesn’t think of it as making 80 cents. They just think, ‘Hey, we gave you 20 cents!‘” director Barry Levinson told Baltimore this past November when he was in town for a Maryland Film Festival fundraiser at MICA. Indeed, an economic report filed by Sage Policy Group in January calculates that every million made available for film rebates pumps $5 million into the local economy.
But that’s only if filmmakers shoot here in the first place. Lately, given how meager Maryland’s incentives are compared to other states, they can’t, no matter how much they want to. For instance, John Waters, a man whose entire career is based on mining Baltimore’s peculiarities, may shoot his next film, Fruitcake — a children’s movie about two runaways in Remington — in Michigan.
“The entire movie business has collapsed in Maryland,” says Waters. “I’m not saying I am [going to film in Michigan]. I had to finally, about eight months ago, say to the producers I would, if I had to. The thought of shooting in Michigan or some state that can look like Maryland is insane to me, but I’m a realist.”
The whole story is worth reading — click the link above — and pay special attention to the resourcefulness of Maryland’s Film Office’s DEEM program, which is an effort to take many of the professionals involved in film and TV production and re-direct their careers into creating video games and digital media. They’ll be fine unless they really start to thrive — under Gov. O’Malley, Maryland also has raised taxes on its millionaires, thus encouraging many of them to leave the state.