By: John Rokosz
The ongoing effort of protecting the film industry in Pennsylvania is championed by hardworking people that love their city. James Mahathey, now a proud PaFIA board member, is one of those people. A longstanding career in Pittsburgh film became both the reason and the method through which James is contributing to that cause today.
James Mahathey, born in Penn Hills, has become a hometown success story in Pittsburgh film. He currently acts as a Location Manager, and has worked in the industry for 20 years. His department is responsible for location scouting, permit and contract acquisition, and the coordination of space for cars, trucks, trailers, and catering. Some of his larger projects include Desperate Measures, Wonderboys, The Mothman Prophecies, Kill Point, She’s Out of My League, Unstoppable, and The Dark Knight Rises. Today, he lives in the North Hills, married with children, and serves as a PaFIA board member on their membership committee.
Looking at his experience, James seems destined to make a difference in Pittsburgh film. He attended the Pittsburgh Filmmakers school and graduated from Point Park University, where he earned an internship with the Pittsburgh Film Office. His primary task was maintaining location folders, which organize anything from scouting pics, to paperwork, to the plans for assembling film sets. During his senior year, he took over a night location shoot when a problem with the location photos threatened to delay set building. Working all night, James saved the project to meet the producers’ demands. More and more gigs quickly began to pop up, through which James was able to prove himself and his craft. Immediately after senior year, he was offered his first official gig on Desperate Measures, with Michael Keaton and Andy Garcia.
As the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia film industries matured, PaFIA was formed to provide a state-wide conversation about what it meant to keep film projects coming to PA. James joined the cause when PaFIA first started, and was clear about his reasoning: “It’s a good way to let the government know we have a strong workforce. Over the past five years, we’ve seen an encouraging increase of crew in the city.” As a contributor to the membership committee, James is focused on increasing the global awareness of PaFIA, which includes membership from film crew, students, and even corporate vendors that service the film industry.
His efforts on the set and on the PaFIA board have certainly been worth it. The film tax credit has once again been renewed, which is the key to keeping work here in the state. With a steady career in film, James was able to pay off his bills, and bought his own house in January, 2009. Proud to be working in the city he calls home, he remarked: “Now that I’m married with kids, I want to stay in town as long as I can. It’s the tax credit that makes that possible.” More and more film crew are following James’ lead; digging their feet into the region, getting involved in PaFIA, and ensuring the industry’s continued success. It’s exciting to see more and more of these hometown heroes paving the way for generations to come.
The Milken Institute, the nonprofit think tank known for data driven studies offering solutions to policy initiatives, has turned it’s eyes on Pittsburgh’s film and media scene in the hopes of determining what makes Pittsburgh home to what is called “a thriving cluster of media related jobs.” Their report calls for the Pittsburgh Film Office to develop and advocate three main objectives for the stakeholders in order to compete with cities such as Atlanta, New Orleans, Toronto and New York. According to the report, it will be vital to invest in entertainment infrastructure, create and retain a skilled entertainment workforce and ensure political support and long-term commitment to film incentives if the region wishes to keep it’s advantage.
To view report, click here.
Ben and Oliver Samuels are producing brothers shooting in their native Bucks County. Ben attended Tufts University and made a microbudget horror film, entitled Watch Me, immediately after graduation. The film starred then unknown actor Nick Jandl, who is now breaking hearts as Dr. Caleb Ryan on Nashville.
Shot in Buckingham and Central PA, DreadCentral just reviewed Watch Me, noting its “…interesting twists and turns towards the movie’s conclusion…” that made it a “…certified indie hair-raiser.”
After Watch Me, Ben booked a gig directing the Gothic thriller Kantemir, starring horror icon Robert Englund, known for his role as Freddy Krueger in The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. The film is being released domestically in Summer 2015. At Ben’s suggestion, the LA producers moved the filming location from Massachusetts to Pittsburgh, taking advantage of the phenomenal crew and infrastructure that Pennsylvania has to offer.
Oliver attended the University of Vermont and defined himself on the rugby pitch. A proud Doylestown Dragon and natural leader, he joined UVM’s Varsity Team as a freshman and coached the b-side as a junior and senior. After Kantemir, the Samuels brothers decided to blaze their own trail as filmmakers.
In March 2015, Ben and Oliver completed the innovative survival thriller 6:15 in Bucks County. With a state tax credit, the production employed nearly 40 local cast and crewmembers, bringing a burst of business to the area’s restaurants, shops, and, yes, even golf courses.
Since picking up their first VHS camera to make birthday movies in elementary school, the Samuels Brothers have been filmmakers. All the wildly embarrassing childhood films were shot in neighbors’ backyards and running through town in ridiculous costumes. The area’s support (and patience) fostered the boys’ imagination, empowering them to follow their dream in a difficult industry.
Bringing 6:15 home to Bucks County was one of the most important parts of the project. Pennsylvania has given so much to Ben and Oliver; making films here is one way they’re giving back. More than that, however, it’s an incredible place to be from and an incredible place to shoot. Pennsylvania’s star is rising, with more and more superb cast and crew calling the Keystone State home, waiting for local projects to rally behind. The tireless work by groups like PAFiA, especially in Harrisburg, ensures that filmmakers from Pennsylvania who are committed to growing the state’s industry have a bright future ahead.
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PaFIA Members and Friends,
Over the past weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the North Carolina legislature had voted to end the state’s film incentive program. Lawmakers were quoted expressing a desire to cut one of the oldest and most successful film programs in the country and instead provide incentives for other industries in North Carolina. The Motion Picture Association of America has warned the state that it will lose thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in spending on film productions. The state’s Commerce Secretary is lobbying legislative leaders to keep a portion of the program intact, to no avail.
Our concern is that some members of the Pennsylvania film and television industry may have become complacent over the last several years because of our success in Harrisburg. In 2009, the PA Film Tax Credit was threatened with extinction. It was regarded as a pet project of the Governor and welfare for Hollywood. Through hard work, the PA Film Industry Association reversed these negative mindsets. The tax credit program is now viewed by members of the legislature from both parties as an effective economic development tool that is providing jobs and support for Pennsylvania’s small business community. The debate this spring was not about whether to have a film tax credit program, but how to make it more effective. Some leaders felt that the program should be uncapped to realize its full potential for economic growth. All of the change in attitude toward the film program occurred during very difficult budget years for the Commonwealth; despite the reduction of many other programs statewide, the current film incentive program remained intact. Early reports on revenue for this fiscal year suggest that the Commonwealth’s economy is still struggling-our work is not done in Pennsylvania.
As a result of PaFIA’s work over the last several years, thousands of communications have occurred between members of the film industry and legislators. Regular meetings have occurred between PaFIA’s officers and the Governor’s office as well as the Department of Community and Economic Development. This work is consuming, tedious and difficult but it has certainly paid off. The big difference between the film programs in North Carolina and Pennsylvania is PaFIA. North Carolina does not have a strong organization that speaks on behalf of companies and residents in the state who depend on the film and television industry for their livelihood. There is no voice of the industry speaking to North Carolina legislators about the industry’s jobs and the citizens who hold them.
Opponents of our program in Pennsylvania are currently being held at bay in Harrisburg. The intensity of PaFIA’s campaign cannot lag or else our investment in the film tax credit program could come under the same threat that the North Carolina film and television Industry now faces. In order to meet our common goal of improving and expanding the tax credit program, the administration must continue to hear from PaFIA members whose daily lives are positively impacted by it. We have seen many successes, but there is no time to rest. Support for PaFIA has never been more critical. If you are not a member, join. We need your support now more than ever.
The Pennsylvania Film Industry Association Board of Directors: David Haddad, Ray Carballada, Diane Heery, Kevin McQuillan, Dave Bowers, David Raynor, Chelsea Danley, Brian Hartman, John Horell, Jeannee Josefczyk, Mike McCann, Helen McNutt, Nancy Moser, Missy Moyer, John Rusk, Katie Scott, Andrew Sliben, Heather Tassoni, Paul Williams, Justin Wineburgh
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 email@example.com