Kenney Wants to Slash Funding For Philly’s Film Office By 50 Percent

The budget cuts are the latest in a string of bad news for the film office. But the administration thinks it can make up the loss by soliciting donations.

Mayor Kenney (Matt Rourke/AP), Sharon Pinkenson

Mayor Kenney (Matt Rourke/AP), Sharon Pinkenson.

This is not exactly a great time for the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.

The flow of major film projects in the region has slowed to a trickle. The state’s Film Production Tax Credit was among the countless programs that were held hostage by the long-running budget debacle. And even with the budget standoff now kinda-sorta-somewhat-temporarily resolved, Hollywood isn’t exactly beating down Philadelphia’s front door like it did a decade ago, when it seemed like you couldn’t walk two blocks without running into Bradley Cooper or Mark Wahlberg. (OK, slight exaggeration. But you know what we mean.)

The film tax credit is still capped at $60 million, a sum that’s quickly devoured once it’s divided between Philly, Pittsburgh and other pockets of the commonwealth. And now it looks like the film office will have to get by with less funding from the city, too.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year aims to cut the amount of the money the film office receives by almost 50 percent, from the $163,952 that was doled out in fiscal year 2016 to $83,952.

“I’m very concerned that we could lose any money from our modest budget,” said Sharon Pinkenson, the film office’s executive director. “We’re particularly concerned about receiving less money from the city, because it’s always so hard to get it back once it’s taken away. But I’m hoping the mayor will reconsider and that our budget will be made whole.”

The film office has a staff of seven people. “We’re really dependent on what seems like such a small, even minuscule amount of money in the overall city budget,” Pinkenson said. “It’s so important to our ability to do our work well and help create exciting jobs.”

Creating and keeping film jobs in the city has proven to be increasingly difficult. Directors who are interested in the area are often lured to other states that don’t have a cap on film tax credits, like Georgia or Massachusetts.

But it doesn’t look like Kenney will be reversing the proposed budget cut any time soon. “The city has to make a number of difficult budget decisions every year, and, unfortunately, one of the decisions this year was to reduce their level of funding,” Lauren Hitt, Kenney’s spokeswoman, said in an email. “We chose this organization because we felt that, of the options on the table, they were most likely to be able to make up the funding through philanthropy or corporate donations.”

Hitt said City Representative Sheila Hess sits on the film office’s board, and is “committed” to helping the office recoup the lost dollars through other means.

In the short term, it’s unclear how the reduced funding will impact the film office. Pinkenson noted that the office does more than just try to lure film productions to the region. It has a multicultural affairs department that works to bring more diverse voices into the local film industry, hosts a screenwriting competition that offers a $10,000 prize for local writers who craft screenplays that are set in Philly, and provides programming and workshops to filmmakers.

She said the city has been “incredibly consistent” in its support of the office in the 24 years that she’s been at the helm of the operation. “I’ve had a spectacular relationship with every mayor, and I’m hoping to have one with Mayor Kenney, too.”

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