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Western Pennsylvania loses out on film work amid state budget impasse

| Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, 11:00 p.m.

Jordan LoNigro won't be appearing in any more cinematic food fights any time soon.

After submitting his resume and getting hired as a high school student for the movie, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” he realized that nothing was better than hanging out and throwing food while getting paid. But not long after, his film opportunities dwindled.

“The last thing I did was one scene for a TV show that I was in. It was called ‘Banshee.' I just did that for one day, and then I was done,” LoNigro said. “That was like summertime.”

Pittsburghers won't be featured in many movies until the Legislature passes a proposed state tax credit, film industry insiders said.

Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers have failed since June to approve a spending budget, which would include the film credits.

Carl Kurlander, a senior lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh's Film Studies program, said the area is struggling to attract film productions because of the impasse.

“We are already struggling to have year-round industry, and not having these shows come here is really unfortunate,” said Kurlander, president and CEO of the Steel Town Entertainment Project. Producers of “American Gods,” a Starz television series set to be filmed in Pittsburgh, announced this fall that they would go elsewhere because of the lack of a film tax credit contract in Pennsylvania, said Dawn Keezer, head of the Pittsburgh Film Office.

“We beat out 10 states for this huge piece of business and lost it because of the ongoing budget impasse,” Keezer said.

There are more than $200 million worth of film tax credit applications for Western Pennsylvania projects awaiting approval at the Department of Community and Economic Development, Keezer said. They can't be signed until there's a budget. The state awards $60 million in tax credits annually.

“If they do not get something done in Harrisburg by the end of the year, we will lose other major, high-profile, significant pieces of business,” Keezer said.

Alyssa Hanna, production manager at 31st Street Studios in the Strip District, said no jobs at the studio were lost because of the Starz series leaving, but its three employees missed opportunities.

“We're losing work, and we're losing business, and we're losing money, which is just as important,” Hanna said. “All the people that are in the production companies that were supposed to come in, and all these Pittsburghers they were supposed to hire, those are the people who are missing out on all these job opportunities.”

Ashley Kolumban is a journalism student at Point Park University.

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