Wisconsin hopeful its incentives will be enacted retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007

Film Wisconsin is cautiously optimistic that its film incentives package will be enacted retroactively to Jan. 1, 2007 when the state legislature convenes in January.

The state lost $77.5 million of potential feature business when pre-election partisan politics pushed the incentives start date back by 18 months to Jan. 1, 2008 from May 30, 2006.

If the package is not enacted Jan. 1, “the worst case scenario would be a later date of July 1, 2007,” said Scott Robbe, one of the founders of private industry group Film Wisconsin.

With its incentives in sight, Film Wisconsin is reenergized to regain some of those lost millions, starting with made-for-Madison “Poker Brat,” whose producers are considering Winnipeg as a stand-in city.

“Poker Brat” is the story of eponymous wunderkind Phil Hellmuth, Jr. of Madison. Heyden Christensen is set to portray Hellmuth and Jon Chou will direct for Beacon Pictures.

Budgeted currently at around $7 million, it’s slated for late spring production.

Although Film Wisconsin is hopeful that the incentives will kick in sooner than later, it still wants to ante up additional enticements for “Poker Brat,” such as finding a suitable Madison building to serve as a stage.

“The building would be owned or controlled by the city or state and given to the production company to help defray their costs,” said Robbe.

Wisconsin’s incentives have been heralded as among the very best in the business. The anticipated millions that would funnel to the Badger state would also boost employment among Illinois filmmakers.

Film Wisconsin is an amalgam of filmmakers, business and arts leaders and bipartisan lawmakers who worked for more than a year to craft the incentives and successfully lead them through the legislature. Formed in April, 2005, a few months prior to the closing of the 19-year Wisconsin Film Office. Its purpose is to advance the state’s film industry.

Also on the agenda. Setting up a film office, to be located in Milwaukee , is also on Film Wisconsin ‘s agenda. “Seed money of $100,000 is being sought that will allow the office to go after a few films and introduce a new period of activity,” Robbe said.

Who would head the office hasn’t been decided.

Dave Fantle, PR director city-funded Visit Milwaukee, is the de facto head of the film effort. He has been fielding an average of two calls a day from producers who would be interest in filming in Wisconsin when the incentives are back in play.

Scott Robbe can be reached at 608/338-6665.