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Old City Shooters wants state help to develop digital film production in Philadelphia

Updated 5/15/09 3:08 p.m. Sometime in the 1990s, Ray Carballada was thinking of moving a Cherry Hill-based post-production company to New York City. Instead, he did something strange. He moved it here. “Then, there was something special, something different about being in Philadelphia,” says Carballada.”It was part of our draw.” Dave West, Jay Hartidain and […]

curtis-building
Updated 5/15/09 3:08 p.m.
Sometime in the 1990s, Ray Carballada was thinking of moving a Cherry Hill-based post-production company to New York City.
Instead, he did something strange. He moved it here.
“Then, there was something special, something different about being in Philadelphia,” says Carballada.”It was part of our draw.”
Dave West, Jay Hartidain and Craig Needlamn started Shooters in 1981 in Cherry Hill, where they still have an office. But the crown jewel of Philadelphia’s post-production community is housed in Old City at the old Curtis Building, once part of Philadelphia’s global publishing nerve center. in 1981 in Cherry Hill, where they still have an office. But the crown jewel of Philadelphia’s post-production community is housed in Old City at the old
And, so, whether Carballada likes it or not, he’s become something of an activist in support of $75 million worth of suddenly tenuous annual state tax credits for film production.
The city’s place as a growing home to the screen could depend on it.
Last week, another hearing of the state Tourism and Recreation committeeas the Inquirer reported. The state Senate approved a budget that cut $400 million worth of tax credits, including those aimed at the film industry, as KYW reported Friday. went through a variety of proposals aimed at postponing or tossing out the credits,
If those cuts pass the House, Carballada says the state’s film industry is in trouble.
One of the most common complaints from critics of the tax breaks is that they benefit a wealthy industry and that Pennsylvania doesn’t get much in return.
But as Carballada says, it’s so much more than that. The breaks represent the respected start of something bigger — jobs, tourism, promotion and more.
That something better — an industry — just may have gotten its latest start with Shooters, boosted by their Old City offices.
Carballada says the industry is moving back to full-service high-tech companies. So its film transfer, post-production, sound and graphic design, shooting crews, HD services and more are all proving beneficial.
“No one has this integrated breadth of technology and talent that we do,” Carballada says. The company often outbids other East Coast firms for advertising, work on independent films and function for HBO and the Food Network, handling shows like Dinner:Impossible. The firm is also working on two feature-length films and a pilot animated series for “a network you wouldn’t expect it from” — though he declined to say anything more.
One video processing room at Shooters, a post-production facility in Old City, Philadelphia, as captured in April 2009.
By his estimates, there are less than 30 post-production facilities in the country with the kind of high-end technology that Shooters has: maybe 20 in L.A., perhaps just three in NYC and maybe only one in Chicago, too.
Carballada also says these tax breaks don’t have to go on forever.
“Once you develop a mass of businesses, they’ll stay there,” he says. “Philly isn’t quite there yet.”
Even still, movie Mecca California offered $100 million in incentives last year, he says.
Carballada isn’t the only and certainly not the official voice for Philly’s small, if respected, metropolitan film industry. That title would probably go to Sharon Pinkerson, who has reigned for 15 years as executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office and spoke before the House committee about the tax break debate.

GPFO Director Sharon Pinkerson speaks to state House committee on $75 million in film industry tax breaks

  • Read the testimony
  • Includes an interesting history of film in Philadelphia.

In early 2008, on the back of increased state tax breaks and a growing reputation, Shooters was able to invest $2.5 million to expand its digital intermediate visual effects division, as the Philadelphia Business Journal reported. That technology and the summer 2006 hiring of visual effects-specialist Mark Forker, who worked on “Apollo 13,” “Titanic,” “Armageddon,” “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” “Cinderella Man,” and others while at Digital Domain in Los Angeles, propelled Shooters to among the top facilities in the country.
Of course, there are other post-production facilities in Philadelphia, including Assembly in Manayunk, but most primarily cater to advertisement production, like Old City’s Cubist and Hall Media, which is located in that awkward space between Spring Garden and the Vine Street Expressway that is sometimes called the Loft District.
They do good work, Carballada says, but there’s something to be said for the city’s pride to have a serious, nationally-known production facility as part of a broader industry. If Philadelphia is to be a world-class city, he posits, it’ll need to have a foot in culture-building film industry — and an ability to create jobs in our creative economies, which they’ve done increasingly so in recent years.
Shooters has 70 employees, as many as 50 of whom are in high-end tech fields like animation and graphic design.
“We hired the best people we could locally,” but, their growth earlier this decade came from employees from Los Angeles and Miami, hired away from New York for the chance to be an industry leader in a new, burgeoning scene, he said.
Philadelphia’s growing presence in the film scene is changing the pool of potential candidates.
“The available talent from local art schools is 100 percent better than even three years ago,” he said. Almost all of their entry level employees are now those who came to Philadelphia from city and surrounding regional schools.
Carbadallo noted the city’s long-term cultural impact, its proximity to varied filming locales and centrality to other urban hubs is a core argument for Philly’s ability to sustain a serious film industry.
“Some people living here don’t believe it, but Philadelphia is this cool, hip, even seen as a new place for these people to be,” he said. “These tax credits are helping us build this industry here — an industry that brought in $350 million into the region [in a year].”
He notes how important being in the center of electricity and bandwidth can be to their operation — and Philly itself.
Almost all of the 40,000 square feet the company has on two top-floors of the historic Sixth Street Curtis building are devoted to production facilities, processes, servers and computer-heavy workspace.
“You have to have the ability to have real tech integrated in your system to survive in our industry. It’s becoming a given.”
Brightly painted with high ceilings, the company’s main shared space was once a ballroom and banquet hall used by Cyrus Curtis to lure customers and advertisers to his famed publications, magazines like the Ladies Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post. The first moved to New York and the other ceased publication, though it has a Midwest incarnation.
Carballada doesn’t want the same thing to happen to the nascent high-end, post-production scene in Philadelphia.
“If these tax credits could stay and become more stable, you would see more high-tech film companies move into town,” he said.
“That means jobs, money and a certain perception of the state and of Philly … We’d all like that, wouldn’t we?”

Companies: Shooters
People: Ray Carballada
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