- Associated Press - Saturday, September 16, 2017

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - When “The Glass Castle” premiered in Welch on Aug. 11, part of what it showcased - besides the state of West Virginia - was the behind-the-scenes work of the West Virginia Film Office.

“We assisted with scouting locations, working with the city to close down roads because they needed to have control of a couple of areas during filmmaking,” said former Film Office director Pam Haynes.

“We assisted with connecting with some local crew available for hire. We were pleased with that,” said Haynes of the film, which is based on a memoir by Jeannette Walls about her harrowing childhood that included growing up in Welch.

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But things have changed since the Film Office played that small, but essential role in the making of the nationally released film.

Haynes quit her role and returned to her previous job as a paralegal with a Charleston law firm after it became clear the West Virginia Legislature intended to cut the entire $341,000 budget for the office - founded in 1994 - in a cost-saving move. Legislators left in place a $5 million state film tax investment credit, intended to lure film and video productions to the state.

Many functions of the Film Office as a clearinghouse and guiding hand for film and video projects have since been absorbed by the Division of Tourism in the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

Chelsea Ruby, the commissioner of tourism, said her office is in the process of adapting to the new responsibilities that have been transferred to her staff.

“The Film Office is still open, but we are undergoing some restructuring due to the loss of funding for the office,” she said.

Bill Hogan, a managing member of Image Associates LLC, a West Virginia-based advertising and media production house, spent many hours lobbying legislators about the significance of the Film Office’s work. Cutting funding for the office was “penny-wise and pound foolish,” he said.

“It was the dumbest move that could have been made. Myself and many other filmmakers expended endless energy, visited with virtually everybody on both bodies of our Legislature to convince them of that. Politics got in the way,” he said.

Hogan said he has spoken with the Tourism Office about its new role in guiding film production in the state, which involves everything from location scouting to training in-instate film production crews, but he is concerned about the changed circumstances.

“I don’t want to dismiss their efforts in trying to deal with something that has fallen in their laps. They are clearly trying to be proactive about maintaining the Film Office,” he said. “But without a point person available it leaves not only producers, but the entire film community wondering who we can speak with.”

There is no film commissioner or staff for the film commissioner, said Hogan.

“There is no Pam Haynes a producer can pick up the phone to speak to or a location manager when they’re shopping for locations,” he said. “We really have been used to great communication through a single funnel. There’s no one who is experienced.”

Ruby said members of the tourism staff are taking on Film Office duties.

“It’s not necessarily that we’re devoting specific people,” she said. “What we’re doing is cross-training and taking other folks in our office and incorporating film into their day-to-day duties.”

She has met with other state tourism offices that run state film programs.

“Other states have done this very successfully, and we believe if we do this right, we’ll be better positioned to tell West Virginia’s story,” Ruby said.

Some promotion of the Film Office is underway, she said, with a new website soon to launch and an exhibit planned at this year’s American Film Market to promote shooting in the state.

“We continue to take the day-to-day calls of the office and administer the tax credit program,” she said.

The Film Investment Tax Credit program offers up to $5 million in annual tax credits to production companies to encourage them to film in West Virginia.

A production company can earn a tax credit of 27 percent if it spends at least $25,000 in West Virginia. The credit goes up to 31 percent if the company hires 10 or more West Virginia residents as crew or talent during a shoot, a measure intended to help grow film production talent in the state.

A production company can then sell the tax credit to a West Virginia business or individual wishing to reduce corporate or individual tax burdens.

Since the Film Office’s inception, a host of film, video, commercial and still-photography shoots have taken place in West Virginia, ranging from portions of high-profile productions such as “We Are Marshall” and the J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg film “Super 8,” to five Stephen David Entertainment miniseries for AMC and other cable channels. There have been hundreds of other productions, including numerous projects by state businesses.

The tax credit program has been key to the decision of many in-state and out-of-state production companies to locate a project in the state.

The Film Office’s 2016 annual report stated, from its enactment in July 2007 through December 2016, the Film Investment Tax Credit program has “spurred a large increase in business prospects that have spent more than $54 million in direct in-state expenditures, including wages, construction, fuel, transportation, airfare, lodging, heavy equipment rental and more.”

Ruby noted, for the first time since the tax credit program’s inception in 2007, all $5 million worth of tax credits were applied for in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Already in the new fiscal year, about $1.3 million in tax credits have been awarded, she said.

Despite cancellation of the Film Office budget, Ruby said the state’s film production industry will carry on.

“West Virginia is a great location for film, and we’re starting to make a name for ourselves as a state that welcomes film,” she said. “We look forward to building on that reputation and welcoming new films to West Virginia.”


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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