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Blockbuster could make 2014 Pittsburgh's best year for film, TV production

Jake Gyllenhaal poses at the premiere of his film 'Prisoners' at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Sept. 12, 2013. Gyllenhaal will be in Indiana County and Pittsburgh this summer to film 'Southpaw,' a drama about a junior middleweight boxing champion. The film also stars Rachel McAdams and Lupita Nyong'o.

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Friday, May 30, 2014, 11:55 p.m.

A blockbuster movie just approved for a multimillion-dollar Pennsylvania film tax credit could make 2014 Pittsburgh's biggest year yet for film and TV production — as long as the project stays on track after losing its star.

Actor Will Smith backed out of the title role in “Brilliance” on Thursday as Legendary Pictures learned it had been awarded a $19.5 million tax credit by the Pennsylvania Film Office, putting the movie's cost somewhere around $100 million.

“If the level of interest continues, this is setting up to be the biggest year we've ever had,” said Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office. She declined to comment on “Brilliance.”

Steelers minority owner Thomas Tull, chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures, could not be reached for comment.

Some tax credits for “Brilliance” could come from another Legendary project slated to film in Pennsylvania. “Hot Wheels” was to receive $8 million this fiscal year and $30 million total. The movie, which was to have mostly filmed in Philadelphia, no longer appears on the state's website that tracks film investments.

Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, referred questions to the PA Film Office.

The Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees the office, declined to say whether the movie's producers withdrew their application. The Tribune-Review filed a Right to Know Law request for the information.

Keezer said she did not know whether any returned tax credits were used to fund Pittsburgh projects. She believes no more money is left from this year's state budget.

A new fiscal year will start on July 1.

“Our work would continue into the fall,” Keezer said.

Filming on “Brilliance” is supposed to begin in August, and executives want to stick to that schedule as long as a replacement of Smith's caliber can be found soon. Legendary Pictures' other big-budget releases include “Godzilla” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” which also was filmed in Pittsburgh.

This year's local productions began with “Fathers and Daughters,” starring Russell Crowe, which wrapped this month. “Southpaw,” featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” a film based on a novel by Point Breeze native Jesse Andrews, are set to start filming in June.

After a lengthy delay, “The Last Witch Hunter” with actor Vin Diesel could begin shooting here in August. The Lionsgate project is slated to receive $14.1 million in tax credits.

Five other films and two television pilots also could come to Pittsburgh this year, Keezer said.

“It's all due to the success of the film tax credit program and the local crew,” she said.

Pennsylvania provides $60 million annually for film projects that spend at least 60 percent of their budget in the state. Producers can receive up to 30 percent of their qualified expenses in tax credits.

Representatives of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” an Indian Paintbrush production, continue to scout locations around Pittsburgh and the East End neighborhoods of Point Breeze and Squirrel Hill, said Jeremy Dawson, one of the film's producers.

The coming-of-age comedy, to be directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (“American Horror Story,” “Glee”), examines life, death and high school. Cast members include Thomas Mann (“Project X”), Olivia Cooke (“The Signal”) and Jon Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”).

“To come here and shoot here, it seems like a perfect place for us to make this movie,” Dawson said. “We want to make sure Pittsburgh is a character in the film, since the book is set in Pittsburgh.”

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