Wilkes-Barre Film Office welcomes industry to area

November 26. 2013 11:21PM
By Bill O’Boyle From The Times Leader

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Movies filmed in Wilkes-Barre? The possibility may be closer than you think.

The newly established Wilkes-Barre Film Office hopes to be able to attract movie production and post-production dollars through Pennsylvania’s tax credit program.

At a press conference on Nov. 22 at Genetti’s Hotel and Convention Center, Thom Greco introduced his volunteer board members – one who is an executive with 21st Century Fox who grew up in Plymouth.

Jeff Ball, 47, is a graduate of Wyoming Valley West High School and Wilkes University. He earned his MBA at Yale University and now lives and works in New York City for Fox. Ball said the effort to bring movie production to the area is a great idea and he hopes Fox will one day be a part of it.

“Of course I can’t commit Fox to anything, but this is a good idea,” Ball said. “Most movie production is done in Los Angeles or New York, but post-production can be done anywhere.”

Ball grew up with Jimmy Harnen and the two were together in the band SYNCH that was managed by Greco and Tommy Mattola, an agent who has represented major recording stars.

Greco said the state has the tax credit program capped at $60 million, but that could change next year. He said the state legislature is discussing uncapping the program and that could open the floodgates for Hollywood to utilize Pennsylvania cities for post-production.

Greco said Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have been receiving the bulk of the business through the tax credit program.

“What is needed is warehousing space with power,” Greco said. “And this area has plenty of spaces available.”

Pa. tax credits

Greco and co-founder Lorena Beniquez said they are working to promote the area nationally and internationally through the film industry. They have been working with Secretary of Revenue Dan Meuser, a resident of Jackson Township, to help bring some of those tax credit dollars to the local economy.

Beniquez is the film commissioner for the Central PA Film Office, which serves nine counties.

Other board members include Ken Vose, a screenwriter, playwright, novelist, non-fiction author, and current faculty member in the Wilkes University M.A., M.F.A. Creative Writing Program; attorney Megan P. Maguire; Mark Beletiere, an accountant for the entertainment industry who is involved in federal and state tax credit applications and financing; Nikita Shumway, local visual artist from Wilkes-Barre; and Matthew DeVoe, global sourcing manager for 21st Century Fox.

“The key is to create jobs,” Greco said. “We are also talking to local colleges to discuss offering programs to educate and train people for this industry.”

Greco said Wilkes-Barre is positioned well – just two hours from New York City – to attract movie post-production contracts. He said once the area is established, the economy could benefit with new residents and added patronage for local businesses.

Greco and Beniquez said television shows are often produced in places like North and South Carolina and Georgia.

W-B’s history

Greco also highlighted the rich history of Wilkes-Barre and the film industry. He said people like the Mankiewicz family, James Karen, and Jack Palance were all area natives.

“Some 100 years ago, Wilkes-Barre was the center of movie production,” Greco said. “Lyman Howe and Joseph Mankiewicz were pioneers in the industry.”

The state tax credit program offers credits equal to 25 percent of film production expense and provides an incentive for filmmakers to produce films and television shows in Pennsylvania.

To qualify for the credits, the film or show must be at least 15 minutes in length and intended for a national audience. 60 percent of the total production expenses must have been incurred in Pennsylvania.

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