What with Jamie Foxx, Dev Patel, and Reese Witherspoon in town to make thrillers, sci-fi adventures, and rom-coms in 2009, it's been a starry year in Philadelphia. And those luminaries - in movies such as F. Gary Gray's Law Abiding Citizen, M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender, and "The Untitled James L. Brooks Project" - helped make it a record year for the Greater Philadelphia Film Office (GPFO).

In all, 11 movies and TV shows made in Philadelphia this year accounted for $270 million in direct spending in the region, according to the film office. That is nearly a 200 percent jump over 2008, when $92 million was spent on hotels and restaurants and Teamsters and technicians. The film office estimates that the 2009 activity created 2,000 jobs and had a broader economic impact of close to half a billion dollars.

"It's been the best year in my 18-year tenure and in the 25 years of the film office," Sharon Pinkenson, GPFO's executive director, said yesterday. "Tax credits have made all the difference," she said of the embattled Pennsylvania program to give credits to productions that film in the state.

After a three-month battle in Harrisburg, the $75 million in tax credits was reduced to $42 million for fiscal year 2009-10. It will rebound to $60 million in 2010-11.

"The volume of business impacted my membership in a most positive way," said John Ford, president and business manager of Local 52 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes (IATSE). Yesterday the union executive enthused, "We were pretty much at full employment levels of about 250 to 300 members for much of the year just due to Airbender and the James Brooks project alone."

The other shoots include the television series Cold Case and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the Neil Patrick Harris comedy The Best and the Brightest, about young parents trying to place their child in an elite kindergarten, and the drama Night Catches Us, with Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie as characters looking back at the Black Power movement in Philadelphia.

"I'm deliriously happy," Pinkenson said yesterday, her enthusiasm tempered by the film business that Pennsylvania lost during the three-month budget impasse over the summer. "Just imagine what kind of business we might have had if the tax credits hadn't been threatened with elimination."

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.
Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/
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