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State budget impasse chases Shyamalan film to Canada

Backers could wait no longer for tax credit.

M. Night Shyamalan's latest feature, "Devil," has relocated production to Toronto. (Clem Murray / Staff)
M. Night Shyamalan's latest feature, "Devil," has relocated production to Toronto. (Clem Murray / Staff)Read more

It wasn't the Devil that made M. Night Shyamalan do it. It was the Harrisburg budget impasse.

With uncertainty about whether Pennsylvania's film tax credit will be authorized in the state budget - now in Day 56 of limbo - the supernatural thriller (which Shyamalan wrote and is producing) has relocated production to Toronto.

Though the filmmaker has shot eight of his nine features in the Philadelphia region - for an estimated economic impact of $375 million, according to the local film office - his backers couldn't wait any longer for legislators to approve the incentive that brings filmmaking and jobs to the state.

"Last week, at the 11th hour, Devil withdrew its application for credits because of uncertainty with respect to whether film tax credits would be in the state budget," Jane Saul, director of the Pennsylvania Film Office, said yesterday. "This is an obvious sign that without the film tax credit in place, we lose film business, and in turn, jobs."

Not only has the budget deadlock resulted in productions moving to regions with tax credits, "it has negatively affected our ability to attract new productions," said Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.

One such film is Destination Home, a movie about a wealthy family that faces adversity during the economic downturn. "We were scheduled to begin shooting Sept. 16," producer Justin Moore Lewy said yesterday.

"We would like to shoot in Philadelphia. But a combination of the tax credit in jeopardy and union negotiations have left us in limbo." The production is scouting locations in Georgia, Louisiana and Toronto, where tax credits are assured.

According to an independent analysis released in May, during fiscal year 2007-08 the state's film tax credits led to $300 million in production dollars that Pennsylvania otherwise would not have seen, and to the creation of nearly 4,000 new jobs.

Without the film tax credit provision, there is the distinct possibility "that those workers will be collecting unemployment from the state of Pennsylvania rather than paying taxes to it," Pinkenson said.

Tim Galvin, who worked as art director on the movies Beloved, Philadelphia and Shadowboxer, moved from New York to Philadelphia for the creative opportunities.

"The film business is fluid, it will go where the incentives are reliable and that's exactly what's happening," he said in an e-mail yesterday. "The dispute in Harrisburg has just about killed the fall production season [and] further delay will make for a cold, hard winter in Philly."