First a bit of trivia that the world doesn't know. The hugely successful film, "Juno" was seriously looking at shooting the entire film in Milwaukee. I have extensive e-mails and files on the project. We lost the shoot to Vancouver because we were not successful in moving the start date of the film tax credits.
But now we have "take two," and the tax incentives are in place.
Remember the last time the Packers went to the Super Bowl and the statewide buzz and excitement it created? Remember how the city mobilized around "Harvey's Wallbangers" when the Brew Crew made their only World Series appearance in 1982? Events such as this have a way of bringing communities closer together and at least temporarily putting more pressing matters on hold.
In some ways, that same excitement and sense of community can be felt when a film crew "sets up shop" in a city or town. What fun it is when a Hollywood star is seen eating at a local restaurant or just taking a stroll through the streets.
With the announcement that the big-budget Johnny Depp film "Public Enemies" has begun production in a number of locations throughout the state, we're about to experience that excitement first-hand. While we've been hearing a lot about Baraboo, Madison, Oshkosh and Columbus, director Michael Mann and his entourage have spent a good deal of time scouting the Milwaukee area. Don't be surprised to see Depp and company roaming the streets of our city!
The impact from this film is already reaping tangible benefits. Dozens of Wisconsin residents have been involved in this production, from crew members to hopefuls looking for a walk-on role in the film to vintage cars (owned by our residents) being used in the film.
There recently was a Milwaukee casting call.
The film will pour millions of dollars into our state economy, and with the potential of destination marketing, locations used for the film can potentially leverage this to reap tourism dollars for years to come. Just think of what "Bridges of Madison County" and "Field of Dreams" have done for Iowa!
This production is landing in Wisconsin thanks to the visionary leadership of the vast majority of the Wisconsin legislature (and Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and Gov. Jim Doyle), who supported and passed the Film Wisconsin bill that took effect on Jan. 1.
You always run the danger of leaving someone out, but suffice to say virtually all Milwaukee-area legislators have actively supported our efforts to build a creative economy for the Milwaukee area, which is perfectly compatible with the economic development efforts of the Milwaukee 7. If there are two government officials deserving of top billing, it would have to be Sen. Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield) and Lawton.
Currently, State Sen. Jeff Plale (D-Milwaukee) and State Rep. Pat Strachota (R-West Bend) are circulating a bill (LRB 4091/1) to make the Film Wisconsin legislation even stronger. Anyone interested in creating jobs and marketing Milwaukee as a destination for tourism and commerce, should e-mail their legislators in support of this legislation.
The bi-partisan bill would allow film production companies to transfer unused, non-refundable credits to other taxpayers with a tax liability who need them. It would also phase in residency requirements for eligibility of film production employees for tax credits as the talent infrastructure needed for productions develops and becomes self-sustaining.
Just the announcement for the film has put Wisconsin in the nationwide media in a positive context. With "Public Enemies" and several other projects looking at Wisconsin and Milwaukee, the potential for economic impact and image marketing is enormous.
The Film Wisconsin tax credit bill is our effort to grab a piece of the $60 billion worldwide industry. It's clean, green manufacturing for the 21st century. It's a revisioning of the manufacturing economy that for years was (and to some extent still is) the backbone of our area economy.
And while it makes for fun buzz to land a blockbuster Hollywood production such as "Public Enemies," the tax credits and a special arrangement with Marcus Theatres to screen state-produced movies will help us land smaller, independent film projects to Milwaukee.
A prominent film scout with extensive feature film credentials recently visited Milwaukee for the first time, looking at possible locations for a major Steven Spielberg film. While the locations didn't quite fit their needs, she departed calling Milwaukee a "gem" just waiting to be discovered.
Milwaukee, its downtown, lakefront, neighborhoods and architecture provide the diversity filmmakers are looking for.
With the incentives in place and with the cooperation of city officials in making the city as "film friendly" as possible, star sightings may become more common and Milwaukee can become the next Toronto.
David Fantle is vice president of public relations for Visit Milwaukee and coordinates the Milwaukee Film Office. He also sits on the board of Film Wisconsin, the statewide organization charged with marketing the state to the film, television and video gaming industry.