Lights, camera, inaction

Our view : Maryland is losing its show biz appeal - and good jobs

July 02, 2008

Actress Renee Zellweger and noted Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin S. Carson Sr. have little in common, but they tell a story of how opportunities to bring Hollywood filmmaking to Maryland are won and lost.

Ms. Zellweger is in town shooting a movie that is providing hundreds of jobs for local technicians, actors and extras. Amazingly, a planned film about Baltimore's Dr. Carson won't be made here at all.

Why? It's a matter of dollars and cents. Ms. Zellweger's My One and Only is receiving about $3 million from a state fund that provides filmmakers a partial rebate of local production costs. No such lure could be offered for the Carson biography - the state program's modest budget had run dry.

Maryland has often been touted as an ideal location to shoot a movie or film. Within a few hours' drive, one can find mountains or ocean, the nation's capital, gritty urban streets or pastoral horse country. But Hollywood decision-making is driven more by numbers than by the scenery.

The state budget for film and TV production rebates is $4 million. At least 22 states offer greater financial incentives to producers.

Such investment pays off. Last year, Maryland's $4 million program yielded $37 million in direct spending for an overall $80 million impact on the economy. State officials estimate that Maryland has missed out on an additional $500 million because the incentive program lacked the needed funds.

TV series The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street helped spawn a significant film production industry in the Baltimore area. Without additional investment to lure TV and film, much of that talent will likely leave the state for greater opportunities elsewhere.

Gov. Martin O'Malley needs to adequately fund the program in next year's budget - not because it means Hollywood stars such as Ms. Zellweger can been seen on Baltimore's streets once in a while, but to ensure well-paid jobs aren't permanently lost.

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