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Benefits Of State Film Tax Credits Debated

As more films are made in the state, there is renewed debate over the tax credits Ohio is using to lure movie makers here.  The debate centers over whether they bring economic benefits to the state. Brian Bull of member station WCPN in Cleveland reports.

In his Reminderville home, Jeff Criswell thumbs through the photo gallery stored on his
smart phone.

JCr: …well, we have a picture of me and another guy with some fake blood.  We were very excited because not everybody got fake blood….

Criswell was an extra for the multi-million dollar blockbuster hit, “The Avengers”, which
filmed several action scenes in downtown Cleveland a couple years ago. His teaching schedule was freed up that summer so he played the part of a New York businessman fleeing alien invaders.

JC::  Our part…(laughs)…was pretty much to just run from Point A to Point B, when they would tell us to.  Scream a little bit, yell a little bit, look distressed and scared….

Criswell’s pay was 10 dollars an hour for eight hours, then time and a half when shooting went long. Being drizzled in fake blood was an extra bonus.  The Avengers spent more than 20 million dollars in Cleveland.  Some of that went to extras like Criswell, and other locals hired to work on the production.  But local vendors and services also profited.  Many are enjoying a repeat bounce with the Captain America sequel and “Draft Day” films. 

Mary Jo Mazzarella, of American Limousine Service says her chauffeurs have transported movie scouts, cast, and crew all across town….often putting in 12 to 16 hour days. In an immense garage, she watches as a black Mercedes “Sprinter” van gets a cleaning. 

MJM: All of our vehicles are completely detailed prior to going out and in between trips.  That’s why our central location is great being right here, at West 117th and Detroit.  We’re minutes from downtown, and minutes from the airport.

American Roadway Logistics in Richfield sees a comparable bump from the movies.  Estimator Scott Hindulak says safety is their product…their orange and white barricades and detour signs keep you from driving into a chase scene, or wandering into a shootout, like this one at 6th and Rockwell.

SH:  Road closures seems to be the biggest demand with the movie industry. `Cause they need several blocks to set up a stunt or control the traffic, control the pedestrians, so they can have the scene just they way they want set up.

Film crews are giving a heftier chunk of business to Izzy Schachner’s company, Streat Mobile Bistro and Catering. 

IS: So it’s all the snacks, it’s all of the amenities like if they need band-aids or suntan lotion...pretty much services for the craft, craft services.

Schachner says in 2010, Streat Mobile worked with just one film.  Then two in 2011. And this year he’s up to three, with the expectation that they’ll also work with a dozen commercial productions as well. 

IS: I see it only getting better.  As long as the tax credit continues to renew.

Ohio’s film tax credits were introduced in 2010.  Last year, Governor Kasich doubled them, from 10 to 20 million annually.  Ivan Schwarz of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission says in the first two years of the program, 87 million dollars in direct spending from 40 productions across Northeast Ohio have come from the tax incentives. Schwarz says his ultimate goal is to get a full-time film production infrastructure in place for Cleveland. 

IS: What we’re trying to do, is slowly and methodically grow this industry, create a scenario where anybody that has the right skill set can work in this industry 24-7, 365 days a year.

But the film tax incentives have critics.  The non-profit Tax Foundation calls the credits’ benefits overblown, and says they provide only temporary relief to a state’s economy and job market.  Zach Schiller, a tax policy analyst for the group Policy Matters Ohio, is another critic.

ZS: Let’s face it, having some big Hollywood stars in your town makes you feel good about yourself, and makes you feel good about your town.  And the problem with it is, it’s quite clear that these incentives are a loser.

Schiller says tax revenues generated from film production is far less than that given up
through tax credits.  He suggests some of that money might be better spent fixing up the same West Shoreway that’s being used to film Captain America. The film commission’s Ivan Schwartz dismisses the nay-sayers.  He says while landing big-budget movies is great…it’s more volume than size that’ll keep the momentum going…

IS If our goal was just to have movie stars walking the streets of Cleveland, and have the one-up movies here, and the only thing we had here was Captain America, or The Avengers, or Draft Day, then they’d be right.  Because that’s not how you create permanency.

But permanence might be wishful thinking, with some 40 states now providing film tax
credits – each vying to gain the competitive edge for Hollywood’s affections.