- The Washington Times - Friday, February 19, 2010

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) | Filmmakers looking for quaint Vermont villages, scenic northwoods landscapes and historic covered bridges as their movie backdrops may soon be looking elsewhere.

In a budget-cutting move, the state wants to eliminate the Vermont Film Commission, which woos and assists TV, movie and commercial productions in the state.

The head of the Vermont Film Commission said his agency should be spared because it brings in millions in expenditures and helps promote Vermont as a destination.

“I realize that these are tough times economically in the state,” said Executive Director Joe Bookchin. “The governor and the Legislature clearly have some difficult decisions to make. But the commission has played an important role in attracting clean, well-paying, stable jobs that are so crucial to Vermont’s economic future, while also pumping millions of dollars into the state’s hospitality, tourism and service industries.”

The state, which is forecasting a budget shortfall of up to $150 million in 2011, is looking for potential savings in all corners of state government. Last week, Gov. Jim Douglas proposed eliminating 55 state boards and commissions, including the film commission, in an effort to save the state about $700,000.

In June, an Associated Press survey found that states gave $1.8 billion in tax breaks and advantages to the entertainment industry from 2006 to 2008, even though economists and policy analysts can’t agree on whether the deals are beneficial.

The Vermont film group, which operates out of a third-floor office in a converted 19th-century home in the shadow of the Statehouse, gets $171,000 a year from the state, employing an $80,000-a-year executive director, a part-time deputy director and a college intern.

Despite having no government incentives to offer filmmakers, it has helped land feature films like “What Lies Beneath,” a 2000 Harrison Ford thriller; “Me, Myself & Irene,” a 1999 Jim Carrey comedy; and “Moonlight and Mistletoe,” a made-for-television Hallmark movie shot in 2008.

Moviemaking here didn’t start with the commission’s debut in 1996, though. In 1954, Alfred Hitchcock filmed “The Trouble With Harry” in Craftsbury. Portions of “Beetlejuice,” “The Cider House Rules,” “Baby Boom” and “The Spitfire Grill” also were filmed in Vermont.

By the commission’s reckoning, it has brought in productions that have spent more than $60 million.

The state said the work could be done by others in state government.

David Coriell, a spokesman for Mr. Douglas, said the commission was originally expected to become a self-sustaining entity but hasn’t, instead running up high administrative costs.

David Giancola, who runs Edgewood Studios in Rutland and produced “Moonlight and Mistletoe,” said the state might as well eliminate the commission, because state officials have rejected the idea of establishing state incentives for film production. Many other states have such incentives.

The Legislature will have the final say on whether the film commission calls it a wrap.

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