By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 17, 2008 at 5:02 AM

As first reported on OnMilwaukee.com last week, Marcus Theatres announced Friday that it will guarantee screenings of feature films made in the state in its cinemas.

The arrangement, along with a new 25 percent state tax incentive for film, TV and video producers that took effect on Jan. 1, is aimed at encouraging filmmakers and producers to shoot in Wisconsin.

"Once the word gets out, specifically to the independent film community, this could have significant impact on the number of productions landing in Wisconsin," says Dave Fantle of the Milwaukee Film Office.

"If you're an independent filmmaker who has managed to cobble together $2 million for a feature film, the holy grail is to find distribution for that finished product. That is not always easy."

According to Fantle, the idea for the arrangement emerged at a Film Wisconsin board meeting and, specifically, from board member Jay Schillinger of Pulse Communications in Green Bay. Mike Ogrodowski, a senior vice president with Marcus Theatres is also on the board and he pitched the idea to his boss, Marcus president Bruce Olson.

"What a better incentive than to tell that filmmaker that depending on the quality of that film you'll get screenings on one or more of Marcus' screens," says Fantle. "That's gold and will provide that filmmaker with a tremendous boost in his or her efforts to find distribution and market the film to a wider audience."

The Milwaukee-based Marcus Theaters is the seventh largest theater circuit in the U.S., with more than 600 screens in six Midwestern states.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Schillinger and Film Wisconsin -- a non-profit, public-private partnership advocacy group which aims to boost film and media in the state -- Olson wrote, "Marcus Theatres will provide the foundation bookings that may lead to multiple playdates from other theater circuits in major markets across the Midwest and U.S.  ... the number and play dates will be determined by the final quality and appeal of the production.

"It is my understanding that having such a guarantee in place will go a long way in getting filmmakers to commit to  shooting in Wisconsin; as well as raising the necessary P&A (prints and advertising) funds required for a successful run."

Although the company retains the right to decline screening any film, Olson write that Marcus will make an effort to screen any film with a rating of G, PG, PG-13 or R.

"To our knowledge, this is the only type of arrangement in the country and coupled with our attractive incentive package, gives us a bigger competitive advantage in our efforts to build a film economy for the state," says Fantle.

Jonathan Jackson, program director for the Milwaukee International Film Festival believes the arrangement is a good first step. 

"I think it is an exciting initiative that coupled with the new tax incentives should help spur more production in Wisconsin," says Jackson. "Naturally, Marcus Theatres has built an opt-out clause so they don't have to screen every film shot here, so we will have to wait and see how effective it is.

"I would like to see this new emphasis by Marcus Theatres and Film Wisconsin focus on not only films shot here, but also, films produced and shot by Wisconsin residents that meet a certain standard of production or quality. That initiative would directly help our film industry to grow."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.