School Funding

Philly City Council Restores Funding For Film Bureau After Year Of Zero Budget


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After a year of pay cuts and advocacy with elected officials, the Greater Philadelphia Film Office is no longer the only film commission in a major American city without government funding.

City council on Wednesday approved a $ 100,000 injection for the nonprofit, which was founded in 1985 – it owns the prized web domain film.org – and generates more than $ 300 million per year in economic spinoffs for the region.

“I call us small but mighty,” said Executive Director Sharon Pinkenson, noting that with a staff of five, GPFO creates thousands of jobs each year.

Jobs aren’t just for cast and crew, Pinkenson said. When TV and movie shoots come to the area, they generate work for people in the lumber, hardware, retail, trucking, restaurant, wardrobe, hairdressing and hospitality.

The GPFO also runs a high school career advancement and learning program with the Philadelphia School District and partners with other youth education institutions in the city.

The Kenney administration cut the GPFO’s budget to zero in the first year of the pandemic, as the city faced a yawning budget hole. The cut was necessary to focus on “basic services while prioritizing the public safety, health and education of Philadelphians,” city spokesman Kevin Lessard said.

Like almost everyone during COVID, Pinkenson has faced hardships.

To maintain GPFO, she and her staff have had their salaries cut in half. Without funding to hire someone to take over the development work, the team rushed to fundraise and even launched a GoFundMe. He only raised $ 46,000 of a target goal of $ 200,000.

“People think the film industry is rich, but we are a small, non-profit organization that helps people find jobs in film production,” said Pinkenson. “So many little things that people don’t think about are coordinated by the GPFO. “

From liaising with municipal services to obtain the necessary permits, locating places, connecting filmmakers and television producers with local team members, suppliers, etc., the GPFO plays an essential role. to ensure that film productions are attracted to the city and are able to operate on the ground

Greg DeShields, executive director of PHLDiversity at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the GPFO “an invaluable entity for Philadelphia”.

He described the wake of economic activity created by each production, with team members and others involved in the project spending money on hotels and local businesses. He also cited the boom in intangible tourism that accompanies the emergence of Philadelphia in popular culture.

Yet when the city’s FY22 budget was approved this summer, flush with federal aid, funding for the film bureau still had not been restored.

Council member Katherine Gilmore Richardson, calling the city “disconnected,” sought to change that by introducing transfer order legislation mid-year. It has just been approved, reducing some of the funding for the GPFO – but not to the same level as before.

Prior to the pandemic, the film bureau had received regular funding from the city since it became a nonprofit in 1992, Pinkenson said, initially around $ 170,000 a year and more recently around 130,000. $. There was also a state grant in the order of $ 200,000, but Governor Tom Wolf eliminated it in his first budget as governor.

HughE Dillon / Philly Chit Chat

Helping Philadelphia High School Students Achieve Their Dreams

Anchoring film productions in the city is also vital for the next generation of filmmakers, writers and directors, said DeShields, of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, helping “to support the evolution of a more vibrant arts and cultural community at Philadelphia “.

The GPFO manages the Tripod initiative, which is currently operating inside Strawberry Mansion High School through a partnership with the Philadelphia School District Office of Arts and Creative Learning.

Through the program, students were able to learn photography, filmmaking and screenwriting. At present, there are around 40 to 60 students involved.

Elijahwan Cannon Jr., a grade 11 student who dreams of becoming an actor on television or dancing and singing on Broadway, said that through the program he “learned how the business works.”

“It’s a very professional community in the entertainment world,” Cannon Jr. said. “You always have to give 150%, and you always have to be focused and ready on what you’re doing. “

The partnership with GPFO also allowed students to connect with various film professionals who have been to Philadelphia for productions, including actor Nakia Dillard from “The Marvelous Years”, ”And Michael“ OG Law ”Ta’Bon, a Activist born in West Philly who starred in the recent production of Concrete Cowboys. Future guests will include a director of photography and a screenwriter who will help students prepare a film about their neighborhood and school.

Marc Holley is a media arts educator who has worked with students at Strawberry Mansion on Fundamentals. He tries to convey how deep working in the film industry can be.

“If we teach a learner how to create media – the impact that lighting, sound and visuals have on the psychology of people – you can really teach them to change the narrative from within,” said Holley. .

The Tripod initiative may soon spread to other high schools, according to Frank Machos, executive director of the district’s arts and creative learning office. “It’s truly a partnership that builds and supports the future of the film industry in Philadelphia,” Machos said.

With a sigh of relief after the legislation was passed on Wednesday, GPFO director Pinkenson said the restored funding, though less than the $ 200,000 they wanted to receive, “will begin to fill a gigantic hole.” . She plans to use the funds to hire another staff member and ensure the rest of the team keeps their full pay, which she was able to restore on July 1.

” We are pleased. And we are especially grateful to City Council, ”said Pinkenson. “The trade committee was so supportive and wonderful, and Katherine Gilmore Richarson took the lead. “

In the meantime, Pinkenson said they will always focus on raising more funds to support their work.

“We will continue to strive to get the amount we really deserve,” Pinkenson said. “We are an economic engine and the city must recognize this. “