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Mogul Mind Studios is Unstoppable in Pittsburgh

Pennsylvania Movie Studio to House Production for New Denzel Washington Film
August 25, 2009
Although still regarded as the Steel City, Pittsburgh might soon become known as the next film and television production mecca.

Mogul Mind Studios has set up shop at an industrial park in Pittsburgh's Strip District, and has just landed its first major project - the $100 million action film Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.

Mogul Mind Studios signed a long-term lease for a total of 330,000 square feet from 31st Street Business Park LLC, and is in the process of converting the space into a full-fledged film and television production facility. Although Mogul Mind actually took occupancy in December, the deal was finalized last month, according to Brian Kowalski of Complete Real Estate Solutions, who handled negotiations.

Six studios are planned for the facility, with sizes ranging from 7,500 square feet to 38,000 square feet. Company president and CEO John Yost has mentioned on several occasions that the Mogul Mind aims to create more than 1,200 jobs for the Pittsburgh region. Additionally, Mogul Mind plans to expand across Pennsylvania into the Philadelphia market.

20th Century Fox subleased about 90 percent of the space for Unstoppable, which is expected to wrap in 2010. The Tony Scott-directed film is estimated to generate about $60 million for Pittsburgh and create about 250 jobs. With a budget of $100 million, it is Pittsburgh's largest film project to date.

Unstoppable, a thriller about an engineer's attempts to halt a runaway train filled with lethal materials, has seen its share of ups and downs over the summer. At one point last month, Washington was reportedly off the project, before committing to a new deal a week later.

Movies shot in Pennsylvania benefit from Act 55, Governor Edward G. Rendell's $75 million tax credit program intended to bring film projects to the state. Productions that spend 60 percent or more of their budget in the Keystone State are eligible for a 25 percent tax credit. Introduced in 2007, Act 55 created an estimated 4,355 jobs and generated about $20 million in new tax revenue in less than the first full year.

However, the tax credit could be eliminated completely, since Pennsylvania is currently deadlocked in a budget stalemate between the Democratic governor and House of Representatives and the Republican congress. "We're on day 57 without a budget," noted Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office (PFO).

Pittsburgh has seen steady business in the filmmaking industry since the PFO's inception in 1990. The organization has helped bring more than 90 film projects to the greater southwestern Pennsylvania region, and generated an economic impact of more than $360 million, according to its website. Some projects, like Unstoppable, have been quite a challenge for the PFO.

"We've worked on Unstoppable for five years in Pittsburgh," said Keezer. "I've lost track of how many production teams and directors, but I think this is the fourth iteration. They've looked all over the country, and all over the world." Most recently, Keezer noted, Michigan was being considered, due to a 42 percent tax credit. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the Steel City was more suited to Tony Scott's vision for the film.

According to Keezer, Unstoppable, which begins filming next week, will soon be joined by two other high-profile film projects in Pittsburgh. Love and Other Drugs, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, begins shooting at the end of September, and Next Three Days, starring Russell Crowe and directed by Paul Haggis, begins filming in October.

But if Pennsylvania lawmakers don't come to an agreement on the budget soon, ambitious projects like these could be taken elsewhere. Last week, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan moved production of his supernatural thriller Devilfrom Philadelphia to Canada due to the budget impasse's potential effect on the film tax credit.
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