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Maryland businesses anticipate film credit extension boost

Behind the scenes of "Veep"
HBO’s “Veep” was filmed in Maryland and benefitted from an industry tax credit.

During an episode of the popular Netflix series “House of Cards,” a female character angrily throws a framed picture.

Watching that moment from their living room, Bill and Susan Decker couldn’t help but smile as the actress broke their custom-designed product. The husband and wife are co-owners of Furst Bros., a historic Baltimore framing company, and they are among thousands of Marylanders who have benefited from the state’s growing film industry, many in seemingly unanticipated ways.

“Doing the framing for ‘House of Cards’ was very good business that we wouldn’t have normally expected in 2012. We also did work for ‘Veep.’ The more movies and TV series that are made in Maryland, the more opportunities we have to do this kind of support for their set designs,” Bill Decker said.

He said he feels fortunate that the Maryland legislature voted to renew a tax credit that provides a powerful incentive for attracting filmmakers and television studios to the state. Governor Martin O’Malley signed the legislation on April 9.

The law essentially extends the Maryland Film Production Employment Act of 2011, which provided tax credits to productions that spend more than $500,000 in the state. The new version of the law, however, triples the total tax credit cap for fiscal year 2014, from $7.5 million to $25 million. For fiscal years 2015 and 2016, the cap is $7.5 million.

The 2011 legislation is credited with drawing in several major productions, including Netflix’s “House of Cards,” HBO’s “Veep,” and Occupant Films’ “Better Living Through Chemistry,” Synergics Films’ “Jamesy Boy,” and the Ocean City-based “Ping Pong Summer.”

Recent growth in the state’s film industry made the need for an extension of the tax credits all the more urgent, according to Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office.

“Had it not passed, in all likelihood, we would have lost future seasons of ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Veep,’ and that would have been detrimental to not only the hiring of local film professionals, but also the businesses that sell or rent goods or services to productions,” Gerbes said.

Before 2000, Maryland had a thriving film industry, Gerbes said, but Maryland quickly lost its advantage as states across the country began instituting tax credits.

“When Governor O’Malley signed film credit legislation back in 2011, it put us back in the ballgame,” he said.

Today, Maryland is one of 43 states offering a film tax credit. It ranks 28th in value.

While some critics of the legislation claimed it largely benefitted movie stars and Hollywood studios, Polly Smith, president of Meadow Mill Draperies, said the benefits for Maryland’s small businesses are real and job-saving.

“Over the years, business was always terrific. Now in this economy, it’s been so up and down,” Smith said. “When we supplied to ‘House of Cards,’ it prevented layoffs. We love it when a film comes to town.”

Alex Hernan, a manager at Cornerstone Antiques, said his store’s contributions to sets for “House of Cards” and “Veep” also provided a unique advertising opportunity.

“When the trucks were picking up furniture for their movie sets, we snapped pictures and put it on our website,” Hernan said. “We have a good reputation for quality and most of our businesses comes from word of mouth, so it’s neat to mention to people that ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Veep’ are coming in to buy our stuff for their sets.”

Gerbes said the connection between filmmaking, jobs and business revenue is clear.

During the first season of “Veep,” producers hired 971 Marylanders to work either in front or behind of the camera, and purchased or rented goods or services from 1,141 Maryland businesses, most of which were small businesses.

Likewise, during the first season of “House of Cards,” producers hired over 2,100 Marylanders and purchased goods or services from over 1,800 Maryland businesses­­—again, most of the impacted businesses were small.

The benefits also extend into tourism, helping to boost the state’s overall image.

“When Jane Fonda was over in Annapolis for ‘Better Living Through Chemistry,’ she had never been there before and she was tweeting out how beautiful Annapolis is, calling it an unbelievably beautiful town,” Gerbes said.

Recently, in an interview with Men’s Journal, Kevin Spacey of “House of Cards” named Annapolis restaurant Metropolitan Kitchen & Lounge one of his favorite late-night haunts, along with venues in Hong Kong and London, according to Gerbes.

“I don’t think tourism officials have the advertising budget to reach that kind of worldwide audience,” he said.

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