ANNAPOLIS — Sam Tressler IV, the son of a third-generation dairy farmer in Frederick County, runs a film production house and a camera rental house there.
“I have very deep roots in the state, but my passions drive me to make movies,” Tressler said Tuesday, during a hearing on a bill to reserve a portion of the state’s film tax credit for independent filmmakers like him.
Tressler is producing his first feature film, “Leda,” in the county. About halfway into production, about $50,000 has been spent on things like hotel rooms, restaurant bills, car rentals, cast, crew and locations, he said.
Any assistance for guys making their own projects — passion projects — will help the Maryland film industry in general, Tressler said.
“It’s a time unlike any other. More than ever, we can decentralize Hollywood and make films on our own outside of the studio system,” he said.
The proposed bill — from Frederick Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3 — changes the state’s film production activity tax credit program by requiring the Department of Commerce to reserve the first $500,000 each year for small or independent films.
To qualify, film companies must be registered in Maryland for at least a year, 40 percent of workers on the project must be Marylanders and 50 percent of the film must be shot in the state.
Up to 25 percent of a production’s direct spending in the state can qualify for a tax credit.
The tax credit would be available to productions of $25,000 to $500,000, and the cap for tax credit in the program would be $125,000.
“I think it would do a really great job of supporting local jobs and turning this into a real industry in Maryland,” Young said.
Sen. Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, said he’s impressed by the independent film industry’s work in the state and the quality of the productions.
“I appreciate you bringing this forward as a mechanism [to] grow the industry beyond just the blockbuster,” said Ferguson, one of 18 cosponsors in the Senate, including six members of the Budget and Taxation Committee, which is considering the bill.
The bill seemed to find favor with other committee members, as well.
Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, said her husband once played a small role as a shopkeeper in the early scenes of “The Blair Witch Project.”
“The thousands and thousands of jobs that we have in Maryland connected to the film industry are incredible and it’s something people don’t stop to think about when they’re talking about the tax credit,” King said. “But it’s a lot of jobs in so many different fields that help out that industry, so I’m a big supporter.”
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard, has pushed in the past to expand the film tax credit program. In 2014, he proposed expanding the tax credits for Netflix’s political drama “House of Cards” to $15 million after its producers threatened to stop filming in the state. In 2015, he sponsored legislation that got rid of an end date for the program, which had been scheduled to expire in 2016.
Kasemeyer said he respected those testifying in favor of the bill on Tuesday and the state is “missing the boat” in attracting film activity as other states do.
Kasemeyer’s 2015 bill would have dramatically increased spending for the film tax credit program before amendments took out a specific funding level.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget includes $5 million for the program. The Maryland Department of Commerce indicated in a fiscal analysis attached to Young’s bill that the entire allowance for 2018 is dedicated for the production of the fifth season of “House of Cards.”
In the past, the credit has been scrutinized because it does not sustain itself. A Department of Legislative Services analysis in 2014 found that state and local governments recoup about 10 cents for every $1 in film tax credits.
No one spoke against the bill on Tuesday.
Carl Glorioso, director of the nonprofit Frederick Film Office, gave a conservative estimate of at least $1 million in film production in Frederick County over the last 18 months.
While marquee productions like “House of Cards” highlight the state’s film industry, there needs to be a long-term plan to support the industry, Glorioso said. As an example, e pointed to tax credits in Georgia, with dozens of productions filming in Atlanta.
Kyle David Crosby, who owns a small production company that does work in Maryland, said a state tax credit supporting smaller, independent productions would help build an army of crew members to work in the state year-round and create a stable industry.
“We should be in the film business in Maryland, but the only way to build that film business sustainably is to invest in tomorrow’s film workers,” Crosby said. “... A bill like this would help build that infrastructure, so we could have a vibrant community and be Hollywood East.”
A number of members of Frederick’s budding film community also testified.
Brandy Peeples, an entertainment lawyer from Frederick, encouraged the committee to look at other jobs, like hers, created by the industry.
Stephen Kinigopoulos is filming his first full-length feature film, “Fishbowl,” in the county and expressed support for the bill.
Johnny Mercer, from Frederick, is in production for his first short film. In the six days of filming, the production has put almost $10,000 into the local economy through spending on camera gear and equipment, lighting, food, catering and location costs in Woodsboro and Walkersville.
“I came here today to support this bill and just to ask you to invest in art and invest in the state I love,” Mercer said.