State tax incentives are paying off with estimated $50 million so far this year

If feature film production alone continues through the end of the year, 2007 could shape up as a $90-$100 million year, according to early projections.

Revenue estimate is $50 million for the first half of the year. It includes the $30 million expected from the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight,” which has a projected $150 million budget.

The Warner Bros. sequel to the 2005 “Batman Begins” shoots in Chicago for three months beginning in June.

Illinois’ best year for film production was 1999 when revenues hit $125 million. Revenues for 2006 were $60 million; half of that came from a surprising resurgence in commercial production.

The Film Office reports being swamped with queries about the state’s incentives which grant a 20% tax credit on qualifying in-state expenditures.

It’s generally agreed that the rise in production was a delayed reaction to last year’s passage of an expanded Illinois Film tax credit.

“We’re seeing the fruits of last year’s passage,” said Chicago Film Office director Rich Moskal. “We missed the window of opportunity last year, but a lot of the interest that we saw last year is now turning into tangible production.

“It’s not surprising we’re as busy as we are. We offer a great product to TV and film producers. The tax credit just makes it more affordable.”

Eileen Willenborg, who is president of the leading tax credit advocate, the Illinois Production Alliance, said the group’s efforts this year have focused on sustaining the credit’s benefits into the coming year.

“I haven’t given up on a multi-year extension, infrastructure tax credit or an investor tax credit,” she said. “But there’s so much being debated in Springfield this year that we decided to go for the extension, preserve everything we’ve gotten and continue the dialogue,”

“Fortunately the tax credit is pro-business and pro-labor, so we’ve got bipartisan support.”

Illinois Senate Bill 1644, which extends the credit by a year to Dec. 31, 2008, passed in April. House Bill 920, which does the same, passed the House Revenue Committee May 1 and awaited a vote on the House floor.

The question is, how long will the boom in shooting last?