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Maryland's man in Los Angeles


From his Los Angeles office, Ken Haber plans to tip the Maryland Film Office to new work in films and television before the competition hears about it, hoping to boost the economic impact of the film industry on the state by millions of dollars in the next few years.

Haber, 44, a location manager with 24 years' experience, will have a one-person office in Benedict Canyon, Calif., north of Beverly Hills. That office will operate on a budget of $100,000.

"I will be able to find out about jobs that the office here would not normally be able to find out about until days or weeks later," he said. "That can make all the difference. My experience has been that the state that has the first shot at it has the best shot at it."

The Maryland Film Office, which comes under the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, reports that it helped bring in $77 million in economic impact during fiscal 1999-2000.

"We're hoping in the next couple of years to increase that to $100 million or better," Haber said.

Haber, who came to Maryland during the filming of "Major League II" in Baltimore seven years ago, has worked with top directors including Oliver Stone, Rob Reiner, Francis Ford Coppola, Bruce Paltrow and Clint Eastwood. He was location manager for "Thelma and Louise," "The Thin Red Line," "Wall Street," "Fatal Attraction" and "The Bridges of Madison County."

With the new office in place, Maryland becomes one of just three states with West Coast offices designed to attract the film industry. Virginia and Florida each have an office, Haber said. Australia, Toronto and the United Kingdom also have offices there, according to an industry expert.

In Virginia, the film industry brought in $73 million in direct spending last year - a figure that translates into $161 million in economic impact from feature films, television, documentaries and commercials, according to Rita M. McClenny, director of the Virginia Film Office.

That state opened its California office last July.

"It's just too soon to tell the impact," McClenny said. "We opened the office because we needed someone who could respond immediately to inquiries. It's a business based on personal relationships."

Florida, which reported $2.8 billion in direct expenditures from the film industry last year, established a Los Angeles office in 1994, according to Chuck Elderd, Palm Beach County film commissioner.

Elderd said putting an office in Los Angeles has been so successful that he decided to do his own version specifically for his film office. In 1997, he hired a $50,000-a-year consultant to look out for the interests of Palm Beach County.

"I wanted an executive who lived in L.A., went to power breakfasts and would work just for me as a liaison to the television industry," he said. "It has been more successful than I could have ever dreamed. The list of studios and executives that he talks to is incredible - people who would never take my meeting even if I lived in L.A."

Florida has an advantage over Maryland because of Universal Studios and other studios located there. Right now, the only sound stage appropriate for feature films in Maryland is at Flite Three Recordings Ltd. in Baltimore, and that one is small by industry standards - precluding crews from being able to set up several sets at once, said Michael B. Styer, director of the Maryland Film Office. But that's a flaw that the Maryland Film Office is working to correct.

"I really feel like it's going to happen in the next 12 months," Styer said.

A new sound stage today averages about 15,000 square feet, he said. It could cost a few million to $15 million depending on whether an existing building or new construction was involved.

"It could very much make the difference between a film shooting a week here or three months here," Haber said. The dollars add up quickly in feature films, where $500,000 to $2 million is spent each week of filming.

Another way the Maryland Film Office is working to expand film business is the recent hiring of a marketer to promote commercial filming.

The office also will track commercial work for the first time - something that many states, including Virginia, already include in their economic impact numbers.

Also expected to boost filmmaking here is a law that took effect July 1. It exempts from Maryland's 5 percent sales and use tax everything from production equipment to rental cars along with certain services used in the production of films, television programs and commercials for out-of-state distribution.

"I think that's going to make a big difference," Styer said. "I was being asked about tax incentives by a lot of producers and my answer used to end a lot of conversations."

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