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  • Thursday, November 04, 2021 9:44 AM | Jennifer Iams (Administrator)

    October Monthly Recap

    Both the PA House and Senate had two weeks of legislative session this month. While the 2021 legislative session is winding down, the politics heading into next year’s elections are starting to heat up. On October 13, PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced his long-expected candidacy for PA governor. In contrast to the crowded open US Senate seat race that will be on next year’s ballot, Shapiro does not expect another prominent Democrat to enter the gubernatorial race. On the Republican side, rumors that PA Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman will announce his candidacy for governor continue to grow with many expecting his announcement to come sometime in November. The Republicans already have a crowded field for the gubernatorial primary and Corman joining that race could certain thin the field.

    Some of the bigger policy discussions this month include:

    Wolf Administration Announces Vaccination Rates by Legislative District - The PA Department of Health released data showing vaccination rates by legislative district. According to the Wolf Administration, the overwhelming majority of the COVID-19 related cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in Pennsylvania occurred in people who were not vaccinated. The state’s data doesn’t include Philadelphia. You can view the map here.

    - RACP Deadline Extended - The Wolf Administration will extend a window to accept new Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) applications. The window opened on Monday, October 18, 2021 and will close on Monday, November 1, 2021.

    -  Lobbyist Reform Measures Advance – The PA House State Government Committee favorably reported out several pieces of legislation that would make various changes to the 2006 lobbyist disclosure law including, require lobbyists to register any clients seeking state financial assistance or grants and file quarterly reports disclosing if they hold any equity in an entity they are lobbying for; prohibit a state agency or entity from hiring an outside lobbyist or political consultant to lobby any branch of government; prevent lobbyists from also being registered as political consultants; and require all lobbyists to complete mandatory ethics training developed by the state department.

    -  Criminal Justice Reform Measures Move in Senate - The PA Senate Judiciary Committee approved changes to the state’s probation system as part of a broader package of bills aimed at reforming the criminal justice system. SB 913, sponsored by Senator Lisa Baker (R), streamlines the probation review process and sets realistic guidelines for when a significant parole violation would lead to a return prison stay. The bill will ensure that minor violations don’t become a probation-to-prison revolving door. 

    Looking ahead, the PA Legislature is closing in on the end of the first year of a two-year legislative session. This means that all bills from 2021 will carry over “as-is” into 2022. But time is running out for movement to occur on the bill in 2021 as there are only 6 session days planned for the Senate and 9 session days planned for the House between now and the end of the calendar year.

    In film specific news, PAFIA President David Haddad will be coming to Harrisburg in on November 8th and 9th to meet with the four Film Caucus Chairs to discuss strategy for the remainder of 2021 and budget goals for 2022. We are looking forward to an engaging conversation with some of the Entertainment Production Tax Credit’s most ardent supporters. 

    On Monday, October 25, Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Commerce and Economic Development held a public hearing about the economic benefits of the film industry in the City of Philadelphia. Held at the request of Councilperson Katherine Gilmore Richardson topics discussed included:

    • funding support from the City of Philadelphia for a dedicated film office.
    • the need for local film incentives and the enhancement of statewide film incentives.
    • the cultural and tourism benefits associated with filming in Philadelphia.
    • the importance of keeping the economic engine that is the Philadelphia film and production industry.



  • Friday, October 01, 2021 1:33 PM | Jennifer Iams (Administrator)


    September 2021 Recap

    Summer is officially over as the PA House and Senate returned to Harrisburg for legislative session after the Labor Day holiday. The House was in session for 7 days while the Senate had 6 voting sessions.

    The month of September started on a positive note as the PA Department of Revenue released August 2021 collections announcing that revenues were ahead of estimates. Fiscal year to date General Fund collections total $5.3 billion, which is $132.4 million or 2.6 percent, above estimate. More on the department’s collection can be found here

    In COVID-19 related news, PA Auditor General Timothy DeFoor released a performance audit examining how the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) handled a process to grant waivers to businesses seeking to stay open during an emergency shutdown ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. At that time, Gov. Wolf ordered businesses not categorized as “life-sustaining” to close their locations to help slow the spread of COVID-19 as part of an emergency declaration. The audit recommends additional consultation to determine the definition of “life-sustaining,” among other issues. The recommendations are based on findings that DCED posted five different versions of the waiver application and changed guidance on what is “life sustaining” nine times while a document with frequently asked questions was revised 14 times, according to DeFoor.

    More than 42,000 businesses sought a waiver from the governor’s closure order during spring 2020. DCED granted more than 7,000 waivers. A link to the audit can be found here.

    For industry specific news, we continue our advocacy in support of the film industry and increased funding for the entertainment production tax credit. We will be gathering the Film Caucus chairs together soon to discuss strategy for the remainder of the current fiscal year which ends June 30, 2022. We will also discuss strategy as we look ahead to the Governor’s FY 2022-23 budget proposal and the budget negotiations that follow.

    Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Commerce & Economic Development had announced a public hearing on Wednesday, October 6 at 2pm. This hearing has since been postponed to a later date. The committee was to hear testimony on Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson’s Resolution 210643. The resolution calls for hearings to discuss the economic impact of the film industry in Philadelphia. A link to the resolution can be found here. We will keep you posted when a new date for the hearing is announced.

     


  • Wednesday, September 01, 2021 1:38 PM | Jennifer Iams (Administrator)


    PAFIA – August Report

    The Covid-19 health pandemic and inquiries into the November 2020 general election remain hot topics in Harrisburg, even while the PA Legislature is in summer recess. The PA House and Senate return to session in mid and late September and we will keep you posted on the policy priorities of all four caucuses. Please let us know if you need any assistance in outreach to your local House or Senate member. The best time to introduce yourself is when there is no session and members are home in their district offices.

    In non-Covid-19 or 2020 election news, Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) ordered a special election to coincide with Pennsylvania’s municipal general election on November 2, to fill the vacant seat in the 164th Legislative District in Delaware County. The seat was vacated when Margo Davidson (D-Delaware) resigned after charges of theft and election code violations were filed against her.

    Also, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Bellefonte) announced an initiative to make all Senate expenses available to the public online beginning on September 1. This includes all office leases, per diems, reimbursements for meals and lodging, supplies, mileage, office maintenance and much more. The information will be available on a new webpage, which will be updated monthly by the Chief Clerk and will apply to all Senate offices — Republican, Democrat, Independent and institutional.


  • Tuesday, August 03, 2021 11:48 AM | Jennifer Iams (Administrator)

    Since the PA Legislature and Governor finalized a Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget before the June 30th deadline, July was a relatively quiet month in Harrisburg. Even with the PA House and Senate being out of voting session until mid-September, there has been some high profile policy discussions playing out in the press. For instance, you have probably heard or read about the following issues: Pennsylvania joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, PA Senator Doug Mastriano’s (R-Franklin County) push for an audit of the 2020 General Election and the PA Transportation Revenue Options Commission’s proposal of additional fees and taxes to close an $8 billion funding gap to pay for infrastructure projects across the state. While unrelated to the Entertainment Production Tax Credit, the back and forth between elected officials is something to keep an eye on.

    During the summer months when the General Assembly is out of voting session, we continue to encourage PAFIA members to meet with their local legislators and drive home the importance of the Entertainment Production Tax Credit. We suggest highlighting the impact the film and television industries have on your business and employees. Hearing the voices of constituents is always an important factor when a legislator is making a critical decision in Harrisburg. Please let us know if PAFIA or Cozen teams can help with that local outreach.


  • Friday, July 16, 2021 4:44 PM | Jennifer Iams (Administrator)


    The Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA) calls the Happy Rooster “home” in Philadelphia. Prior to the pandemic, the Happy Rooster owner, Debbie Jordan, welcomed PAFIA every month for an open networking night for local filmmakers. Since the state started to re-open in recent weeks, it was a top priority for The Happy Rooster and PAFIA to host a much needed in-person networking event. The PAFIA Networking Night was held on Thursday, July 8th, 2021.

    The event was well attended, with over 75 people gathering in the outdoor space at The Happy Rooster. PAFIA was honored that New Liberty Distillery and Evil Genius set up tastings for PAFIA members at the event. The association was also honored that 10 companies generously donated items to the raffle. PAFIA would like to recognize the following individuals and companies for their generosity: Rescue Spa, Crew Me Up, United by Blue, Maagnifique Photography, Baby Blues BBQ, Stephanie Algayer, Tuna Bar, Executive Producer Patrick Markey, She’s Crafty Traveling Cocktail Bar, and Bose Headphones.

    PAFIA Board Members David Haddad, Ken Myers, Darius Tuller, and Joshua Friedman were in attendance and recruited 17 new PAFIA members. PAFIA is thrilled to welcome new members to show our legislators that the support for the Pennsylvania Film Industry Incentive is only growing stronger.

    If you missed the event, be sure that you keep an eye on the PAFIA website and social media for an announcement for our next event at the end of August (exact date TBA).

    Thank you to everyone who attended and continue to support the Pennsylvania Film Industry Association. 


  • Thursday, July 01, 2021 4:19 PM | Jennifer Iams (Administrator)

    Late Friday, June 25, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed a $40.8 billion budget. Governor Wolf has stated that he will sign the budget bill, and accompanying budget code bills, before the end of the current fiscal year (which ends on June 30).

    Unfortunately, the budget did not provide for an increase to the $70 million Film Production Tax Credit program. Senator Camera Bartolotta publicly expressed her disappointment with the budget outcome in a Post-Gazette article found here.

    However, there was language added to the film tax credit program that gives special consideration to “multifilm” production, which is a series of separate and distinct films produced by the same taxpayer over a period of no less than one year and no more than four years from the time application. If an individual film include in a multifilm application is cancelled, the tax credit may be reissued to another applicant only after the Department of Community and Economic Development allows the taxpayer 90 days to apply for an alternative individual film. Senator Wayne Fontana said in a recent press release that the new changes are helpful, but a larger tax credit would mean more jobs and economic spin off.

    Some of you may be discouraged that the limit for the film tax credit program was not increased but please remember that there has been tremendous growth in support for the film tax credit within the legislature this year – even during a pandemic. Film caucus leaders advocated both publicly and privately in support of our cause and their efforts, along with yours, have not gone unnoticed. We encourage PAFIA members to continue to engage with legislators regarding the importance of increasing funding for the film tax credit. Whether is it meeting with legislators one on one in their district offices, inviting them onto sets, or posting on social media how the film industry is thriving in PA, please do not stop having conversations with elected officials. We can use this opportunity to grow our collective voices even more.

    With the passage of the state budget, the PA Legislature has started their summer recess. This is an opportunity for members to spend some time in their districts and to work on issues in preparation for returning to session in the fall. Unless sooner recalled by their respective chambers, the PA Senate will return to session on Monday, September 20 and the PA House will return to session on Monday, September 27. 

    More information on the budget

    Earlier this year, Pennsylvania was allocated $7 billion in funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) which had gone unspent until this budget. Of those dollars, $4 billion will go towards balancing this year’s budget and more than $2 billion has been set aside for the Commonwealth’s rainy day fund. All in, factoring in offline spending through federal CARES Act funds and American Rescue Plan funds, the FY 2021-22 budget grew just 2.6% over the current 2020-21 budget.

    Highlights of the General Fund Budget

    SB 255 – Appropriations Bill

    An additional $416 million in education funding - the largest single-year education funding increase in state history:

    • $200 million increase to the fair funding formula, for a total of nearly $900 million
    • $100 million for Level Up, a new initiative providing more equitable funding to the 100 most underfunded districts and the students they serve
    • $20 million for Ready to Learn
    • $50 million increase for special education
    • $30 million increase for early education, including $25 million to expand Pre-K Counts and $5 million to expand Head Start
    • $11 million for preschool Early Intervention
    • $40 million increase for the Education Improvement Tax Credit
    • Nearly $5 million for community colleges
    • Provides for the investment of ARP funding for a variety of Covid-19 relief assistance and recovery programs:
    • $350 million for schools to address learning loss and provide summer enrichment and after school programs to help students with academic, social, emotional and mental health needs
    • $50 million for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to support the redesign and growth of the system 
    • $450 million for rental assistance
    • $350 million for homeowner mortgage assistance
    • $36 million to help pay water bills
    • $282 million to help nursing homes and long-term care facilities to recover from the pandemic and improve patient safety
    The budget also provides for $30 million in new state dollars for violence intervention and prevention by local communities and local organizations. 
    • Passed the House on 6/25 by a vote of 140-61
    • Passed the Senate on 6/25 by a vote of 43-7
    • Link to fiscal note can be found here
    • Link to line item budget tracking can be found here

    Highlights from each code bill

    HB 1348 – Fiscal Code

    • Establishes the Angel Investment Venture Capital Program
    • Establishes a two-year pilot program for e-scooters in the City of Pittsburgh
    • Established the Opioid Settlement Fund for any monies received from litigation or settlements
    • Deposits 100% of any General Fund Surplus for FY 202/2021 into the Rainy Day Fund
    • Provides for Level Up in Basic Education
    • Provides payments for fairs that had to cancel in 202 0 due to COVID-19
    • Passed the Senate on 6/25 by a vote of 42-8
    • Passed the House on 6/25 by a vote of 168-33
    • Link to fiscal note can be found here

    HB 952 – Tax reform Code

    • Provides for a sales and use tax exemption for the sale at retail or use of computer data center equipment for installation in a computer data center. Eligible criteria was defined.
    • Specific change to the Bank Shares Tax relating to mergers, pertaining to apportionment of income from another state.
    • Increases the accountability of tax credit and tax benefit programs, including a tax credit broker registration requirement. These reforms are based on recommendations from a 2019 grand jury investigation.
    • A change to the definitions in the film tax credit; creating a new definition for “multifilm”.
    • Local Resource Manufacturing Tax Credit Change (Act 66); changes the law from four taxpayers to two and eliminating the per project cap of $6.25 million per taxpayer.
    • Passed the Senate on 6/25 by a vote of 46-4
    • Passed the House on 6/25 by a vote of 170-31
    • Link to fiscal note can be found here.

    HB 336 – Administrative Code

    • Establishes an audit of the judicial computer system with a report due to the General Assembly by January 31, 2022
    • Establishes a process for constitutional amendment questions to be circulated 14 days prior to publication
    • Requires registered lobbyists to report any equity holding in an entity in which they are lobbying on behalf of beginning July 30, 2022
    • Requires the Attorney General to defend certain claims against the Commonwealth
    • Creates a new Department of Environmental Protection permit for the temporary storage and transfer of beneficial reuse of oil and gas waster (water recycling)
    • Permits the Auditor General to audit a municipal authority and to make recommendations for improvement
    • Repeals the Department of Labor and Industry’s overtime regulation
    • Passed the Senate on 6/25 by a vote of 28-22
    • Passed the House on 6/25 by a vote of 112-89
    • Link to fiscal note can be found here

    SB 381 – School Code

    • Passed the House on 6/25 by a vote of 154-47
    • Passed the Senate on 6/25 by a vote of 40-10
    •  Link to fiscal note can be found here
  • Monday, June 07, 2021 12:36 PM | Jennifer Iams (Administrator)

    Head to our Facebook Page to view more photos from the event! 

    On Tuesday, May 25th, The Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA) hosted a legislative reception in Harrisburg to educate elected officials about the wide-reaching economic benefits of film production. Co-hosted by the four Film Caucus chairs: Senator Camera Bartolotta, Senator Jay Costa, Representative Joe Ciresi, and Representative Kathleen "KC" Tomlinson. The event was well attended with over 65 legislators and legislative staff who participated.

    Both the House and the Senate have introduced identical legislation HB 1432 and SB 321, respectively, renaming the film production tax credit program as the “Film Industry Incentive”. Both bills included a recommendation to increase the level of state assistance for the program from its current $70 million amount to $125 million.

    PAFIA Chair, David Haddad, along with PAFIA Board Members Ken Myers, Amy Sotereanos, Max Zug, and association members Mike McCann and Angelo Sotereanos attended to share their personal stories of how the Film Industry Incentive positively effects their livelihoods. David Haddad started PAFIA in 2009 as the first trade association in the United States that educates legislators on the economic benefits of the Film Industry. “This event,” Haddad states, “is 12 years in the making. To see over 65 legislators and legislative staff on both sides of the aisle come together to learn about the benefits of the film industry is a win for our industry.”

    The PAFIA Board was thrilled to have the backing of the four Film Caucus Chairs who gave a speech to the legislators and staff in attendance. (watch the full speech here.)

    Senator Bartolotta passionately began her speech by stating, “We are here to spread the word about all of the incredible economic benefits of the film industry in Pennsylvania. We have been turning away hundreds of millions of dollars of capital investment that is low hanging fruit, ready for the picking, just pounding on our doors to come into Pennsylvania.”

    Senator Costa points out the bi-partisan nature of HB 1432 and SB 321 by indicating the room was full of “a lot of Democrats, Republicans, House Members, and Senate Members.”

    House Representative Tomlinson thanked the audience and noted that the increase to the film industry incentive will competitively position Pennsylvania for film work with our neighboring states. Tomlinson declared, “this is money that should be in Pennsylvania’s pockets.”

    House Representative Ciresi finishes the group speech by pumping up the crowd and saying “We have the opportunity to make Pennsylvania the East Coast of what California is, we have the opportunity to make sure that we become the place where people want to come to make a movie.” He continued, “If we are serious about creating great jobs and improving our economy after COVID, this is the moment.”

    The $50 million dollar increase to the Film Industry Incentive the House and Senate are proposing would translate to bringing 15-20 more productions to Pennsylvania. This increase would also provide more jobs for thousands of Pennsylvania workers, and inject millions of dollars directly into our local economy. The increase would be a major win for the state. The Pennsylvania Film Industry Association is grateful to the Film Caucus Chairs for their efforts, as well as the PAFIA Board Members and members of the association who have dedicated time to educate the legislators at this event and beyond.

  • Tuesday, June 01, 2021 1:25 PM | Jennifer Iams (Administrator)


    Written By: Beth Brennan & Jim Davis, Lobbyists, Cozen O'Connor

    In May, Governor Tom Wolf continued to ease Covid-19 related restrictions. Event and gathering maximum capacity limits increased on Monday, May 17 and were eliminated entirely on Monday, May 31. Masking requirements remain, however, when 70% of the Commonwealth’s adult population is fully vaccinated the mask order will be lifted. PA Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam announced that the mask order will be lifted by June 28, 2021 at the latest.

    Tuesday, May 18 was primary election day in the Commonwealth.
    Pennsylvania voters approved two ballot questions that place restrictions upon the emergency powers of the Governor. Pennsylvania is the first state in the nation to pass such measures. The constitutional amendments end a governor’s emergency disaster declaration after 21 days and give lawmakers the sole authority to extend it or end it at any time with a simple majority vote. Currently, the state constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote by lawmakers to end a governor’s disaster declaration. Under the law, a governor can issue an emergency declaration for up to 90 days and extend it without limit.

    There were also four special election to fill legislative vacancies.

    • In Lebanon County’s 48th Senate District, Republican Chris Gebhard won the seat formerly held by the late Sen. Dave Arnold, R-Lebanon, who died in January of a brain aneurysm.
    • Democratic state Rep. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, won the special election for northeastern Pennsylvania’s 22nd Senate District which was formerly held by Senator John Blake who resigned to take a top congressional staff position.
    • In Somerset County’s 59th Legislative District, Republican Leslie Baum Rossi won a special election defeating Democrat Mariah Fisher. They were running in a special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Mike Reese, a Republican, earlier this year.
    • In Armstrong County, Republican Abby Major won a special election in state House District 60 replacing state Rep. Jeff Pyle who retired due to health issues.

    In film industry news, Reps Joe Ciresi (D-Montgomery) and K.C. Tomlinson (R-Bucks) introduced HB 1432. This legislation is identical to SB 321 which was introduced in March by Senator Camera Bartolotta. Both bills rename the film production tax credit program as the “Film Industry Incentive” and increase the level of state assistance for the program from its current $70 million amount to $125 million.

    On May 25, PAFIA hosted a legislative reception in Harrisburg to educate elected officials about the wide reaching economic benefits of film production. Co-hosted by the four film caucus chairs Senator Camera Bartolotta, Senator Jay Costa, Representative Joe Ciresi, and Representative Kathleen "KC" Tomlinson, there were over 65 legislators and legislative staff in attendance. Our thanks to PAFIA board members David Haddad, Ken Myers, Amy Sotereanos, Max Zug, and PAFIA Members Mike McCann and Angelo Sotereanos, who made the trip to Harrisburg to meet with legislators. Your advocacy and dedication have helped to ensure that the film industry incentive is included in budget negotiations. As June 30th draws near, the budget negotiations will only intensify as the Governor and General Assembly finalize a budget for next fiscal year. 
  • Thursday, May 06, 2021 2:01 PM | Jaymie Macek (Administrator)


    Written By: Beth Brennan & Jim Davis, Lobbyists, Cozen O'Connor

    Pennsylvania’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout moved full steam ahead this month as Governor Tom Wolf made several announcements in which he increased or expanded vaccine eligibility. All Pennsylvanians age 16 and older are now eligible to schedule a Covid-19 vaccine. As the month of April comes to a close, over 8 million vaccines have been given in PA with 47.3% of all Pennsylvania having received a first dose. The Commonwealth of PA ranks 10th among all 50 states for first does administered by percentage of population.

    The House and Senate tackled several Covid-19 related items this month. The Senate extended the chamber’s temporary rules to allow for remote participation in session and the House passed legislation provide temporary relief Covid-19 related liability claims. Similar legislation was vetoed by Governor Wolf in 2020.

    Pennsylvania House Republicans released a report that includes answers and policy suggestions in response to a survey sent to Pennsylvania employers in February. 921 business responded to the survey. The report noted that the hospitality and tourism industry has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Some of the key findings of the report: 31 percent of respondents said the biggest challenge facing their business has been state virus mitigation orders; 21 percent said financial issues and hardships are their greatest challenges; 28 percent said tax reductions would have the greatest impact on their future success, while another 22 percent said their future success depends upon the Commonwealth removing restrictions and allowing them to fully open for business.

    Pennsylvania Democrats put forward a Pennsylvania Rescue Plan to help employers in all sectors including the hospitality industry. The House Democratic Caucus began developing its “Pennsylvania Rescue Plan” early in the year. The plan would provide funding for businesses unable to stay open or work remotely, job creation, child care, high-speed internet, telehealth, and resources for community college students, among other items.

    PAFIA worked with the House Film Caucus Chairs to help host a tour of Sun Center Film Studios followed by a small informal gathering in Philadelphia. A group of 7 bi-partisan Representatives participated in the tour which included a mix of both newly elected and more senior tenured legislators.

    Discussions continue with legislators regarding the requested increase to the entertainment production (film) tax credit program. Budget negotiations among the four caucuses and Governor have not yet officially begun, but our advocacy remains focused on educating members on the economic development benefit of the film and television industry. With an enhanced film tax credit, the industry can play a significant role in the Commonwealth’s Covid-19 financial recovery.

  • Tuesday, May 04, 2021 3:34 PM | Jennifer Iams (Administrator)
    Made in Chinatown is the first-ever Mafia-Kung Fu mashup where the comedy sensitively handles, with more commentary than spoof, the timely Asian immigrant experience, as well as racial stereotyping and labelling. With some of the most recognizable actors known for portraying mafiosos (Tony Darrow, Vincent Pastore, Tony Ray Rossi), a pair of Hong Kong cinema legends (Lo Meng, Chiu Chi Ling), and the broad talents of Raymond J. Barry, protagonist “Vinny” Chow (portrayed by Jay Kwon) embarks on a quest to join the Italian Mob and become a Wiseguy. He finds himself unwittingly caught up in two love stories – his Chinese culture and the Italian culture he emulates based on The Godfather and Goodfellas, and his fantasy [Italian] dream date and the perfect [Chinese] girl next door. The fast-paced romp is written by martial arts hall of famer and award-winning publisher Mark V. Wiley, is co-directed by Bobby Samuels and Emmy Award® winner James Lew and features a treasure trove of hidden references to everyone’s favorite kung-fu and mob movies, twisted references to classic books, and other easter eggs to delight cinephiles. Having won seven festival awards and terrific advance reviews, Made in Chinatown is set to release on cable, streaming and DVD on May 11, 2021. 

    How did you come up with the idea and how did you get it going? In 1999 I came up with the premise while visiting New York Chinatown. I tried to enter a “private” Chinese kung-fu club and was told, “Chinese only.” Disappointed, I walked across Canal St into Little Italy for lunch and thought what would happen if a Chinese guy tried to join a “private” Italian club. The story developed from there, scenes coming to mind, until a story came into focus. I sent the script to several “coverage” readers and incorporated their notes into the story, then sent the script to every director and producer in “Hollywood” I could think of. I knew they’d all love it and jump on board. Such naiveté.

    What were some challenges that you have encountered?

    For over a decade I couldn’t get anyone to read the script or consider the project for production. Then I approached Shing Ka, a veteran actor and student of a kung-fu master I am friends with. Shing was working on another film that featured some actors I wanted for my film and with his help I was able to get a few cast members in place. With that I went out and raised the financing myself. Then the financing fell through due to political issues between our country and the country where the funding was coming from. But I had actors’ time blocked and needed to refinance the film again. I did and we began production.

    The burning question: how did you arrange the budget?

    One night before Christmas in 2017 I was having tea with a Chinese businessman. He asked me what I was working on and I shared the story. It resonated with him, having immigrated to NY Chinatown as a boy he understood the dilemma of the protagonist. He helped arrange the first round of full funding with investors in China. When that fell through at the 11th hour, I happened to reconnect with an old co-worker who had seen news of the film on social media. He recalled reading the first drafts in 1999-2001 and was excited for me. I told him how the Chinese investor was excited and then how the funds fell away. He then reached to his business contacts and pulled nine people together to cover the production budget. I would then raise the rest of the budget needed for post-production. Well, after committing to final funding and even after being on set over a dozen times and meeting everyone, the final investors never came through and we ran out of funds. This created a huge problem for payroll, with SAG, and of course with some of the cast and crew. But I never gave up, everyone was paid shortly thereafter, but there was a long delay in post-production due to funding. But here we are today, three years to the month of pre-production, and the film is releasing!

    What are the plans for distribution?

    I am blessed that we signed a world rights distribution agreement with Vision Films. They have 30 years’ experience as one of the leading indie distributors in the US and Internationally. May 11, 2021 Made in Chinatown will become available on cable and streaming platforms and on DVD.

    Care to share all the amazing accomplishments, awards and selections?

    The biggest accomplishments for me, personally, were getting all these amazing actors that I have admired for decades agree to be in the film. People like Tony Darrow, Vincent Pastore, Raymond J. Barry, Lo Meng and others. I would never have thought my little idea would blossom into a potential cult hit because of the cast that came on and brought their magic to the roles. And of course, getting the film into production and finally out of post-production and picked up for distribution are long fought accomplishments for me. For the cast and crew, the accomplishments are the great work and the huge response from fans and festivals, where the film has won seven awards, including an Audience Choice Award, two Best Actor awards, Best Stunts, Best Action, and others. The positive and generous advance reviews are rewarding, too!

    Which film festivals do you suggest submitting to?

    The big ones are great if you can get into them, like AFM, Toronto, Tribeca, etc. But for smaller indie films, like mine, we went to where the fans were: Newark International Film Festival (which invited us for a panel discussion and to ne the closing film), Philadelphia Independent Film Festival (we shot most of the film in Philly), Freedom Festival International (we have a broad international cast of Italians, Chinese, Black, Caucasian), and others.

    I was dumbfounded when we weren’t accepted at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, since the film was shot in Philadelphia Chinatown, features so many known Asian actors from American film and television, in addition to two legends of Hong Kong cinema. But there you have it: even if you do your best, you have no control over how your work is received. Regardless, with small budgets it’s best to enter festivals that represent your film’s values and are in locations where your potential fans are for best impact.

    Why did you choose to film in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?

    I live in suburban Philadelphia and love the city and wanted to film here. Even though the story is set in Manhattan’s facing neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little Italy, we could shoot 20 of 22 days in Philly, and one day in Collingswood, NJ. We only did two days of exteriors in NY, and most people can’t tell the difference. Philly is great for exterior and interior locations and is much less expensive than shooting in NY. Also, the shop owners are so gracious and accommodating of our needs and with their space.

    What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?

    We shot in Chinatown, Head House Square, Old City, on Front Street in South Philly, at the Italian Market, and in Port Richmond. I also think Rittenhouse Square and Valley Green along the Wissahickon are terrific places to shoot. As are small towns like Chestnut Hill, Narberth, Doylestown, Peddler’s Village and New Hope.

    How did you get started in the film industry?

    I have been in publishing since 1990 and through working with a magazine in Los Angeles, I began making inroads into the film industry. In the mid-nineties I was invited onto television and movie sets and was asked to write a dozen or more spec scripts for both. After ten years of working, networking, pitching, and writing on spec for fairly large groups, I realized on day that nothing had come to fruition. I was spinning wheels while making a living as an editor and publisher. So I stopped that hamster wheel to nowhere, and kept writing and rewriting Made in Chinatown until it was the best I could make it and until I was able to bring it to the right people. Well, the Urban Action Showcase on Times Square was that place, and there I met so many great people, including its creator Demetrius Angelo and our co-director and local Philadelphian, Bobby Samuels. I produced several of Bobby’s film shorts that won many awards, and from there we created our production team for Made in Chinatown, bringing in talent from Philly, New York and Los Angeles (where our co-director and action coordinator, James Lew, resides.). James was one of my heroes coming up, from his first film Big Trouble in Little China though his Emmy award for “Marvel’s Luke Cage,” and we became friends in the 90s.

    What do you love the most about your job?

    Being a writer who also knows how to produce is an amazing experience. All you need is to make your first project, be it a short or feature or tv pilot. If you are good to people and genuine, the industry can open for you, as it has for me. I developed several very close relationships with some of the actors and producers on my films. I would never have thought I’d be calling and having them over or getting together with them on a regular basis. Getting to know the real people behind their acting personas and being able to collaborate on story ideas and new projects is a blessing. The creative part is what I enjoy most.

    What was your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story while shooting this film?

    First was getting a call from an unknown number in NY. I answered and the voice said, “Mark, the script is funny. The Chinese kid tries to get made!” I said, who is this? The voice said, “It’s me, Vinny, Big Pussy from Sopranos. I’m, doing your movie.” Another amazing moment was after most of the key roles were cast, and we did a local casting in Philly, Tony Darrow walks in and sits on the sofa. After each audition, I’d look back at him and he’d shake or nod his head. One of my heroes growing up was Lo Meng, a legend in Hong Kong cinema. As a teen I’d watch his kung-fu movies on Saturday afternoon with the bad dubbing and emulate his cool moves and my dream was to meet him one day. Well, we connected with him though our production team and he agreed to play “Hung Phat.” His first American film, and because I wrote the role of the Chinatown Triad boss with a crazy laugh, I wasn’t sure if he’d do it. But he asked me to read his lines in English and do the laugh, too, and send him the audio file. He practiced his lines while filming Ip Man 4. When we met at the airport, and we got in my car, he said with a straight face, “Mark, I have been practicing the laugh.” He then did six variations of the crazy laugh and asked which one I preferred. I was stunned, humbled, beside myself with joy and amazement!

    Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?

    I am in the pre-production stage of shooting a TV pilot here, and we have been looking to potentially shoot a teen camp movie in the Poconos. The problem is the lack of tax credits available for small budget projects. I was shattered and in trouble financially when we were all but guaranteed our credits on “Chinatown,” and they never came through. I fought hard for them for two years with the support and help of Dave Bowers (Film Incentives Group), Sharon Pinkenson (Greater Philadelphia Film Office), and State Representative Maria Donatucci. No luck. Maria then asked me to come testify about it before a panel, along with other PA filmmakers Night Shyamalan and Nancy Glass. We all did our best and made terrific arguments for the need for these Tax Incentives in PA. 

    PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?

    PAFIA is doing a terrific job bringing awareness to this issue to the leaders of the state. The more projects that come into the state, the more locals are hired as cast and crew, and catering, and the more hotel rooms are filled, and parking spaces rented, and local shops frequented. These films can become iconic representations of the State, or its cities, and are a terrific way to promote tourism and the birth of a booming business. Let’s keep fighting!

    What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?

    Work hard at your craft and take all the classes you can to improve it. With online courses and master classes from the experts, there is no shortage of training out there. Don’t listen to naysayers or ask opinions of people who don’t believe in your dream. If you are an actor, go to the local principal and background casting offices and let them know who you are and what your capabilities are; get into their databases. Do as many auditions as you can and take whatever first job comes (if it is not objectionable) to get a foot in the door. Once you do one project, you can network on set and expand your circle and get leads for other projects. Be sure to also help those that help you. It you want to write or produce or learn to direct, also take courses, network online and find an opportunity to get hired on a set. You can get in as a grip or driver and start connecting and networking your way to other roles and create side conversations with the director or producers during breaks. There is always a way. Sometimes, like for me, it took two decades for something to finally happen. But all the sudden my career pivoted, and I now have over a dozen projects on slate with a big production company in LA, several with my own company, and two international co-productions. There is always a way if you have stamina, persistence and show gratitude toward others.

    Be sure to always avoid situations that cause you anxiety or where you see red flags. Don’t ignore your gut or put yourself in compromising positions for a role or the “chance” of working on a film. And never sell yourself short. You are valuable and so are your talents, and when the right people see them, something will happen.

    What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?

    I have read over a dozen books on writing screenplays and bios of actors and directors. I thought the negative things they mentioned were “one offs”, even though many said the same things: too many people lie, mislead, take advantage, make promises they know they can’t keep. This is all true, and I wish I had not been so afraid to replace those principals who I knew were not a right fit for a project, and instead ignored the issue. You need the best people around you, not just friends or associates you happen to know and who say, “trust me.” Always find the best casting director, best production team, best director and director of photography you can. If it is a comedy, hire a comedy director. If an action project, hire a good director and support them with a skilled DP who has shot action in the past. Don’t rely on friends for the essential post-production efforts but hire a professional company even if it means doing a little at a time. All of these are important lessons that cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of wasted time.

    What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?

    My only aspiration is to keep creating the best projects I can, and either producing them myself or partnering with a company that may have more resources than I, but also sees the same vision (or an improved one) for the project. Most of all I want to keep growing and developing as a filmmaker and creating relationships with those I work with. Sharing in creativity with others makes life amazing.

    What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?

    As we have casting and crew calls, we will post them on the local boards. We like to use Heery Loftus Casting for our local background casting, and Caroline Sinclair Casting for principal. People can follow Tambuli Media (.com) and our Facebook page, which promotes our publishing and film work. And people can reach me thought FB Messenger or at TambuliMedia@gmail.com.

    And don’t forget, Made in Chinatown will be available to stream on May 11. We have a Facebook and Instagram with updates and clips and fun stuff… and the website is www.MadeInChinatownMovie.com

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Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)
461 Cochran Road, Box 246
Pittsburgh, PA 15228
(717) 833-4561  info@pafia.org

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