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Expanding PA's Film Tax Credit Could Bring More Projects To The Neighborhood

Sony Pictures
Tom Hanks rests outside a film trailor dressed as Pittsburgh icon Fred Rogers on a break during filming of TriStar Pictures' "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," which is scheduled for release Thanksgiving 2019.

On today's program: The Pittsburgh Film Office is having to turn a lot of big productions away; Andy Warhol’s faith goes on display; the city is giving away its plants Downtown; and mental health treatment remains elusive for some defendants waiting to stand trial.  

The film industry is booming in Pittsburgh, but it could be bigger
(00:00 — 12:15) 

A slew of original series and feature films have been filmed in and around Pittsburgh, but Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, says she's turning away far more projects than she's able to bring in.

She says Pennsylvania’s film tax credit, which caps at $70 million, isn’t big enough to compete with states like Georgia and Louisiana, plus even some provinces in Canada.

“This year alone, we needed $125 million in tax credits to keep the work that wanted to be in Southwestern Pennsylvania. That was 13 feature films and six television series that wanted to be here just this year alone,” she says. “But we said no to 11 of the features and all of the television series.”

She says Pennsylvania's existing credit program is among the nation's most strict, requiring projects spend at least 60 percent of their budget in the state. It's a tall order, Keezer says, but one most projects want to meet.

She says she's in favor of a state Senate bill to increase the film cap to $125 million. The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Killion (R-Chester/Delaware), is awaiting a vote in the finance committee. 

Exhibit explores Warhol's complex relationship with Catholicism
(12:55 — 17:43)

Andy Warhol is one of the most recognizable artists since World War II, but there’s not much consensus about who Andy Warhol, the man, really was. A new exhibit at The Andy Warhol Museum adds another twist to attempts to decipher Warhol. “Andy Warhol: Revelation” contends that a central building block of the artist’s persona was his Catholic faith.

90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll reports the show is billed as the first exhibit to focus solely on Warhol and his religion.

City to give away free tropical plants
(17:46 — 22:28) 

Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works is clearing its Grant Street medians to make way for winter and holiday plantings Downtown. Residents can collect the summer shrubbery for free Saturday at the City-County Building portico starting at 10 a.m. DPW assistant director T. Marcelle Newman suggests arriving early and bringing one's own containers and recepticals for future planting.

Newman tells The Confluence’s Megan Harris that people interested in the free plants are advised to wait for crews to remove the plants from the medians and not try to remove anything themselves. There's no limit on how many each person may have. They will be first-come, first-served.

What will it take to reduce wait times for inmate mental health treatment?
(22:32 — 39:00)

Four years ago, the state Department of Human Services was sued to end lengthy waits in jail by defendants awaiting trial while still in need of mental health treatment.

Vic Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, says "they are the sickest of the sick, mentally ill folks,” who need treatment before being declared competent to stand trial.

Walczak says when the ACLU first waded in, wait times in county jails to get treatment at a state hospital were several months, and sometimes even as long as two years for simple theft charges.

Laura Williams, chief debuty warden for health care services with the Allegheny County Jail, says the number of mentally incompetent defendants locally fluctuates from day to day, but defendants now typically receive a comprehensive assessment upon arrival.

They can be placed in the Acute Mental Health Unit where they are diagnosed and treated while waiting for a bed to open a Torrance State Hospital or in a community treatment facility, she says. Walczak agrees—wait times have come down substantially. He credits the ACLU's return to court in March, when officials asked a federal judge to require DHS to provide mental health treatment no longer than a week after defendants were deemed incompetent to stand trial.

Walczak says he hopes the ACLU and DHS can reach a final agreement by the end of the year. 

90.5 WESA’s Julia Zenkevich contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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