Depleted film fund could hurt chances for filming lacrosse movie in Md.

Posted: 7:00 pm Sun, March 21, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The state’s depleted film incentives budget may keep Hollywood’s first sports movie about lacrosse from filming in Maryland where it is recognized as the official team sport.

“Crooked Arrows” is nearing its financing goal of $5 million for production and $2 million for distribution. Reebok has signed on as an official sponsor and co-marketer, the movie’s Facebook group has gone from 1,000 to more than 5,000 fans in the last month and lacrosse publications are chattering away about the film.

The film is slated to shoot this fall with a release after the lacrosse season in the summer of 2011. Co-producer J. Todd Harris said Friday he was “definitely looking at Maryland” to shoot the film, but there’s a hitch.

“The concern is that Maryland’s funds are more limited,” said Harris, who has produced 35 films in the last 15 years including “Bottle Shock” and “Jeepers Creepers.” “The kitty doesn’t have as much in it. If we make a five-million-dollar movie you should get back about a million and a quarter.”

Maryland’s film incentive fund is expected to be $1 million for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and is available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Next year’s budget is an increase of about $450,000 over fiscal 2010, but it pales in comparison to the other states Harris is considering: New York’s $350 million fund (also first-come-first-serve) and Michigan’s non-capped fund.

State incentives funds in general apply to money a production spends while filming in that state. States have different qualification guidelines but usually at least half of the movie’s production must be done in that state.

In Maryland, producers can get up to a 25 percent refund of the money they spend while filming here. A production must incur at least $500,000 in expenses to be eligible.

In Michigan — the most generous program in the country — producers can get up to 42 percent back and must spend $50,000 to qualify. In New York (excluding New York City), productions receive up to 30 percent back and are subject to location limitations.

Maryland Film Office Director Jack Gerbes said he contacted Harris about year ago about filming here and has been in touch since then. He noted that what the state may lack in rebates, it can make up for with lacrosse resources and other intangibles.

“I’ve been pitching to him the advantages we have with the number of players here and how that would save him some [travel] money,” Gerbes said, referring to the need for lacrosse-playing extras. “People here have been talking about how much they want to help bring this movie to the big screen and they’re offering help like in-kind services.”

Harris, CEO of Branded Pictures Entertainment, said if picking between locations was a financial wash, “Baltimore would be a great place to film because we’d get so much attention.”

“Crooked Arrows” is a story about a young Native American man rediscovering his purpose in life by coaching a rag-tag reservation lacrosse team to the local prep championship. Mark Ellis of Sports Studio, which has helped make classics like “The Natural” and “Miracle,” is playing an advisory role to the movie.

If Harris’s movie were to film here, Gerbes estimated it would get between $750,000 and $1 million in rebates, essentially depleting the incentive fund expected for next fiscal year.

But the funds may not be available for long. Gerbes said he’s also talking to representatives from two projects that want to shoot in Maryland but are waiting for a vote in the Legislature that will determine the film incentives budget for the next fiscal year.

If those projects go through, Maryland won’t have much left to offer “Crooked Arrow.”

“I have to have funds available to make an offer to them,” Gerbes said. “If that’s the timing … then perhaps we’d look outside the box to see if there’s some creative way to make this happen.”

In prior years, Gerbes had more wiggle room. The film incentives fund was created in the summer of 2005 with a budget of $4 million. The following year it was $6.5 million, but it has steadily declined since then as the state has struggled with its budget deficit.

Television shows like HBO’s “The Wire” and films like “My One & Only” have brought big bucks to Maryland’s economy in the past. “The Wire’s” fourth season had an economic impact of roughly $61.3 million and created more than 4,000 local jobs while its rebate from the state was $1.6 million. “My One & Only’s” impact was about $26 million and created 805 local jobs with a rebate of $3 million.

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