- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000

Maryland's film and production industry has a new advocate.

The industry's local professionals from production managers and casting agents to location managers and technicians have joined forces as the Maryland Production Alliance to promote the state and tackle industry issues.

"This alliance is an action group," said Rita O'Brennan, president of the Maryland Production Alliance and president of Flite 3 Studios in Baltimore. "Our No. 1 goal is to continue to promote and increase business."

In many cases these professionals are competing for the same business but have united to help the local industry as a whole.

The cause that united the group in the first place was the introduction of proposed legislation this year that eliminated Maryland's 5 percent sales tax on supplies and rentals for feature, television, cable, commercial and music video projects in the state. For the past several years Maryland has been faced with competition from other states and countries that offer strong financial benefits for projects filmed there.

For example, more than half the states in the country offer productions some kind of tax break, whether it's a tax incentive, tax rebate or no sales tax at all.

Although the alliance was not officially formed at the time, the group rallied behind the proposed bill, which was drafted by the Maryland Film Office, part of the Department of Business and Economic Development.

They began educating legislators about its importance to their industry and to the state. They started a letter writing and e-mail campaign as well and called legislators to convince them this was a worthwhile bill.

"This became our cause," Ms. O'Brennan said.

The sales-tax exemption went into effect in July.

"I think that really demonstrated the ability of the group," said Michael B. Styer, director of the Maryland Film Office. "I think this was the impetus needed to move on and get incorporated as a nonprofit."

The group was also helpful in convincing legislators to increase the film office's budget to nearly $1.3 million an increase of 72 percent from the previous year's budget, which is used in marketing the state.

After their success at the General Assembly, the group decided to officially organize to tackle other issues, provide educational programs and act as a liaison between the industry and the state.

As a group all active in the industry they will be "looking out for their own interests," Mr. Styer said, adding that if legislation is ever proposed that would be detrimental to the industry the group would be a strong united force to fight it.

"But more importantly they can help sell the industry and help market the industry locally as well as nationally," Mr. Styer said.

Currently the alliance is made up of a 20-person executive committee and has four elected officers.

This week the group is officially opening up for membership hoping to attract people from all facets of the film and production industry from individual professionals and organizations to students. Fees will range from $25 to $250 depending on the level of membership.

Ms. O'Brennan is confident the group will grow and become a powerful force because "people are very passionate" about the industry, she said.

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