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State rarely plays itself on-screen

Officials: Weak tax perks can send Indiana-centric films out of state

Author :Bonnie Britton

First published 5th July 2006 in at © 2006 All rights reserved.

Be sure to read the original article

Producers of a movie about one of the state's most notorious crimes -- the 1965 torture murder of teenager Sylvia Likens in Indianapolis -- say they wanted to shoot on location, but Indiana wouldn't offer enough financial incentives to bring the production here.

Indiana is missing out on tens of millions of dollars in economic benefits, filmmakers say, as other states lure movie projects with incentives that are often double or in some cases triple what Indiana can offer.

The producer of the most quintessentially Hoosier film, "Hoosiers," said that if he were making the 1986 film today, superior incentives might lead him to shoot in Louisiana.
Louisiana has "a lot of small towns that could pass for a small town in Indiana," said Bloomington resident Angelo Pizzo, whose "Hoosiers" was filmed mostly in Knightstown.
Louisiana offers a 25 percent tax incentive for motion pictures, one of the highest in the country and more than twice Indiana's.

Indiana offers a tax credit of up to 10 percent of a company's "qualified capital investment," and an undisclosed cash incentive on a case-by-case basis, according to Whitney Overturf, Indiana Economic Development Corp. project manager for film initiatives.

At least one other movie with an Indiana storyline is being produced in another state.

"Home of the Giants," starring Haley Joel Osment as a high school journalist covering his hometown basketball team in Indiana, is filming in North Carolina, though a few exterior scenes were shot in Marion in March.

The film's director/writer, Rusty Gorman, is from Marion.

"They came to the state, a proposal was made to them, but it was far short of what North Carolina could offer," said Brian Hasler, lobbyist for the Indiana Media Industry Network, which promotes filmmaking in the state.

Indiana offered "Home of the Giants" $30,000 to $36,000 in incentives; North Carolina offered about $200,000, he said.

Illinois, South Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania are among other more aggressive states that offer filmmakers financial incentives of 15 to 20 percent.

"Right now, Illinois has a 20 percent tax credit, which is basically a blanket tax credit for companies," said Overturf. "We are seriously taking a look at that to see if we can't match that."

Film moves to L.A.

Hoosier writer/director Tommy O'Haver ("Ella Enchanted"), who graduated from Carmel High School, wanted to make his film about the Likens case, "An American Crime," in his home state.

But the incentives Indiana offered were only about one-fifth what producers were looking for, so they're filming in Los Angeles.

The horrific story of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens is seared into local memory. She and her younger sister, Jenny, were left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski by their carnival worker parents.

Sylvia's mutilated body was found by police in a rundown house at 3850 E. New York St. on Oct. 26, 1965. She had been beaten, burned with cigarettes, branded, scalded and thrown against walls by Baniszewski, some of her children and neighborhood kids.

Five people, including Baniszewski and two of her children, were convicted in the case.
The screenplay, O'Haver said during a break from filming, is based on court transcripts. "It's an interpretation of events."

O'Haver first heard about the Likens murder in high school. "Gertrude Baniszewski had come up for parole. It was all over The Indianapolis Star at that time.

"I had just read 'Lord of the Flies' (William Golding's novel about young plane crash survivors turning to savagery), and when I read about the case, I thought, 'Oh, my God, there's some truth to all of that.' "

Indy scenes possible

There's still a possibility that the movie might do a minimal amount of filming in Indianapolis.

"It's up to the financier to say, and if Tommy had his druthers, yes," said producer Jocelyn Hayes.

She said "other states are offering more and a more usable kind of money" than Indiana to woo filmmakers.

States offer filmmakers tax credits, supplier rebates and cash grants to lure them away from Hollywood. These are intended in part to defray production costs, including transporting and housing a film crew on location.

Another problem for Indiana: Even with universities such as Ball State, Butler, Indiana and Notre Dame turning out students with degrees in television, film, broadcasting and related areas, there isn't enough of a home-grown labor pool to staff a feature film, industry experts say.

Greg Malone, a member of the volunteer film task force that advises the IEDC on film matters, isn't surprised that "An American Crime" stayed in California.

"They have a very deep crew base. All the actors can sleep in their own beds at night; you don't have to provide travel for anybody; you don't have to ship anything. And if you need a piece of fancy equipment, you can get it for the cost of a day-rate rental."

Hasler, the lobbyist for the Indiana Media Industry Network, said Michael S. "Mickey" Maurer, IEDC president and Indiana secretary of commerce, has indicated that for the right project, "he is prepared to come forward with an even better package" than those offered to "Home of the Giants" and "An American Crime."

But it's more than the loss of theatrical films that bothers Hasler.

"If we don't step up to the plate, we're going to see a lot of our crew base and talented folks moving to Illinois or Wisconsin (another aggressive state) to do their work."

According to Malone, the only movies that seriously consider filming in Indiana are so low-budget that they generally don't qualify for incentives in other states.

He said bills introduced in the state legislature in each of the past three years would have offered filmmakers more inducements to come to Indiana. They were received favorably by many legislators, but "key committee chairmen put the kibosh on the bills in all three legislative sessions."

Attracting movies has become competitive because host states have discovered what an economic boost they can be, even with the cost of tax breaks and other incentives.

"Walk the Line" dropped $39 million into the Tennessee economy, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Louisiana, which has one of the highest tax incentives for motion pictures, has seen filmmaking grow from a $20 million industry in 2002 to $625 million in 2005, the paper cited.

Pizzo, whose 2003 film "The Game of Their Lives" was shot in St. Louis, said an economic impact study found that the movie, which had a $17.9 million budget and received a $500,000 tax credit, had a total impact on the city of $55 million.

"What happens is, these (movie) companies come in, they drop all this money and they leave. It's a very efficient, economic way of pulling money into a state. I don't know what other kind of industry comes in, cleans up and leaves," Pizzo said.

Call Star reporter Bonnie Britton at (317) 444-6258.

Be sure to read the original article


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