As the first of three big-budget films shot last year in the Pittsburgh region hits theaters today, supporters of tax incentives credited with spawning a surge in local movie-making fear the state financial crisis will cut off such opening nights.
Pennsylvania's controversial film tax credits will be targeted along with other tax incentives designed to spur economic development, according to state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. He and other elected officials said it is too early to predict whether the tax credits will survive, or be eliminated as some conservative groups have suggested.
"Clearly, these tax credits will be up for debate, and they will rise and fall on their own merits," said Costa, a supporter of the film credits whose party loses control of the state House and governor's mansion in January.
This month will mark the first time in the 20-year history of the Pittsburgh Film Office that three movies shot here will play in theaters simultaneously. "Unstoppable," starring Denzel Washington and Chris Prine, opens today. It will be followed in successive weeks by "The Next Three Days" and "Love and Other Drugs."
The three films were awarded about $38 million in tax credits, including about $22 million for "Unstoppable."
Industry supporters attribute an increase in movie production across the state to the tax credits. Pennsylvania began offering them for movie production in 2004 and replaced them with a grant program in 2006. The Rendell administration revived the tax credit in the 2007-08 fiscal year.
Movie companies can receive a 25 percent credit if they spend at least 60 percent of their production budget in the state. Credits are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, and the program is capped at $60 million, up from $42 million last fiscal year. The cap was $75 million in its first year and is scheduled to return to that level next year unless the Legislature alters it.
Groups such as the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based free market think tank, condemn the credits as unnecessary and unfair because they favor one industry over another and have not generated enough money.
If lawmakers cut or reduce the credits, movie companies will find other places to shoot, said Sharon Pinkenson, executive director …