The Greater Philadelphia Film Office director is the reason so many movies are filmed here.
The Film Tax Credit program is number one. That’s all they want to know: Is there any money in the program? This is my 20th year at the film office. I used to have to explain about crews and permits and equipment. Now all they want to know is if there’s any money in the tax program or has the program changed.
The tax credit program was gutted in 2009, although it was brought back up near its original size the next year. What is the state of that today?
When Gov. Corbett entered office, we didn’t know if we were going to lose the program altogether. We were overjoyed that he endorsed the program so strongly and kept it at a $60 million level. Then, in the last budget, they changed the law so that it could never exceed $60 million. That was extremely depressing because there’s so much indigenous cable TV—I need half of the budget just to cover that. This is the only state in the nation that has a big tax credit program that has two major production centers. Thirty million [for Philadelphia] is a drop in the bucket for what we need. What we’re doing is turning jobs away—it’s horrible—even though the program would more than pay for itself.
How do you treat indie productions versus Hollywood productions?
Exactly the same. A lot of productions are independent. You might think some are studio productions, but they are produced independently. We work with more independent productions than with studio. We get a tremendous amount of repeat business.
What is your relationship with other parts of Pennsylvania that encourage film productions?
We have a weekly phone call to the state Film Office [in Harrisburg] with the Pittsburgh office and me. We compare notes, we discuss tax credits, we address any issues that we have. Do we compete for projects? We absolutely do. But if it stays in Pennsylvania, then it’s a win.
What are your future goals for the Film Office?
One is to make Philadelphia the third busiest place for filmmaking in the U.S. We should be directly behind New York and L.A. [Editor’s note: In 2010, Movie Maker magazine rated Philly No. 9 in its annual “10 Best Cities to Live, Work and Make Movies” countdown, behind locales like Albuquerque, Austin and Boston.] I’d like to get the Film Tax Credit program where it should be. We should have unlimited funds. They should be throwing money at us. If we had uncapped tax credits like some states do, like Massachusetts or Louisiana, we would reach that goal. Philadelphia is a far better place to shoot film in than New Orleans by a landslide. Those are my two main goals.
What are your proudest achievements with productions coming to town?
Just making great movies. One of my proudest achievements is my relationship with one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, M. Night Shyamalan. He’s got a tremendous slate of work he’s going to continue doing. He’s breaking into television work as well. We’ve been together since ’92. I’m very proud that when I started, no one thought of Philadelphia as a movie town. And now they do.
Does your favorite Philadelphia movie ever change?
Philadelphia ... was and will always be my favorite movie. Not only because it was the first movie made entirely in Philadelphia, and it was under my tenure in my first year. It got five Oscar nominations. It created a lifelong friendship with Tom Hanks and Jonathan Demme. We changed the world with that movie. I could go on and on.
What is it like being a professional woman when you started, versus now?
In 1993, Philadelphia magazine did a “Best of Philly” issue. They contacted me. They wanted to take a photograph of me. I asked what it was for. And they said they couldn’t tell me exactly, but it would be really beautiful, and I’d be really happy. I thought it would be for Best Film Commissioner Ever. The magazine came out, and it was for Best Hair. I thought my husband was going to kill the publisher. I think that’s what’s changed—I get respected more. Maybe I still have the best hair, but I get a lot of respect for being a successful businessperson.
The 21st annual PFF returns this week, with an array of movies and docs sure to delight local cinephiles. Here’s a sampling.
Among them is 1976's "Mikey and Nicky," starring John Cassavetes and Peter Falk as mobsters trying to escape a hit. Their chatty meanderings take them through Philadelphia at its scuzziest.
About This Year's Oscars Picks ...