By now, pretty much everyone in Wisconsin knows that director Michael Mann and mega-movie star Johnny Depp are set to film portions of the Depression-era cops-and-robbers pic Public Enemies in the state, beginning this month. But does the $20 million shoot really indicate, as Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton has said, that Wisconsin is in the running to become the nation's "third coast" as far as Hollywood's concerned?
Maybe, says Scott Robbe, executive director of Film Wisconsin, the Milwaukee-based nonprofit that has taken the place of the defunct Wisconsin Film Office in promoting the state to the entertainment industry. Robbe says that a number of productions big and small became interested in bringing their projects to the Badger State when a new 25% tax credit included in the 2006 Wisconsin film bill finally went into effect at the beginning of this year. But he adds that those tax credits aren't a magic bullet.
"We've seen an increase in interest, definitely," explains Robbe, who spends much of his time traveling around the country promoting the state's new film-friendliness. "I already have other films that are under $10 million ready to go, but nothing on the magnitude of Public Enemies. The bottom line is that it's a very competitive market internationally right now."
Even if big-budget Hollywood films aren't flocking to Wisconsin just yet, Robbe says a lot of other business is being scared up by those tax incentives. For one thing, he's had success attracting a number of big-budget commercials. That's a very good sign, he says, because "the bread-and-butter production jobs are in commercials."
Videogame production, which is also covered by the film bill, is another lucrative market that Robbe hopes to tap. "I was just out at the videogame developers conference in San Francisco, and there was a lot of interest," he says. "I had several people who are located in Los Angeles right now talking about relocating to Wisconsin because it's much cheaper, and [the pool] of high-tech people is cheaper. That and the better quality of life are very attractive."
Robbe, whose group recently won $100,000 in funding from the state Department of Commerce, says it's essential that Wisconsin keep selling itself to interested parties. "You have to go out there and be very proactive," he adds. "And we've been very proactive."