Tax breaks attract movie makers - and Johnny Depp? - to Wisconsin

Generous tax breaks that took effect at the start of this year are already attracting attention from movie and television companies looking to film in Wisconsin, officials say.

The state enacted incentives of up to 25 percent of production costs incurred while shooting in Wisconsin, prompting the Hollywood Reporter to ask, "Is a filmmaking 'third coast' one step closer to happening?' "

The incentives apparently put Wisconsin on competitive footing with California and New York, and Milwaukee-based Marcus Theatres has also agreed to "provide the foundation bookings" for movies filmed there. Marcus Theatres owns 600 screens in six Midwestern states, and according to President Bruce Olson, "It will make all reasonable efforts to accommodate the filmmakers' request for bookings" on films receiving a G, PG, PG-13, or R rating.

Film Wisconsin executive director Scott Robbe told the Reporter that independent filmmakers will benefit from the Marcus Theatre arrangement. "The hardest thing for an indie filmmaker is to go to an investor and say, 'We have a guarantee to be in a theater,' " Robbe said. "With this deal, it makes investors more likely to give you money. It immediately increases the value of a project."

The Milwaukee area may be used to shoot a gangster film starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, as scouts are checking out locations for banks, prisons, and street scenes. Producers have submitted their application for tax credits, officials said. Milwaukee has already been chosen for another film, "Blue World," a thriller set to begin shooting soon.

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, after returning from the Sundance Film Festival, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "The Violinist" will film entirely in Green Bay, mainly on either the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay or St. Norbert College. "The Violinist" is a $1 million film about Arab-Israeli immigrants.

The incentives also give 15 percent income tax credits to related businesses. Lawton said a camera rental and sales company, Fletcher Camera, and Third Ward Records will open in Milwaukee. Third Ward Records is building a recording studio.

An editorial in The Capital Times hails the incentives and its biggest proponent, Lawton, "who has fought a sometimes lonely battle to get Wisconsin into the 21st century when it comes to engaging with the arts."

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