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New commission aims to lure major film and TV productions to Delaware

The 1989 drama "Dead Poets Society" was shot entirely in Delaware.


More than 25 years ago, three words were scrawled on a piece of notebook paper here in Delaware: "Seize the day." That was in the iconic Robin Williams drama Dead Poets Society.


It's still pretty much the only major production shot entirely in the First State. Now, economic development officials are hoping that will change.

The legislature gave approval this year for a Motion Picture and Television Development Commission to work under the state Department of Finance. They're aiming to bring in productions that could create jobs and leave a lasting economic impact on the state.

Details are still being ironed out, but TJ Healy has been helping with the planning process. He runs the nonprofit Film Delaware, which has been working on bringing in new productions for the past few years.

Healy says the new commission will work with the Secretary of Finance and DNREC to get the state listed with film guilds across the country. Then they'll field inquiries from producers about potential projects' budget, and what kind of economic impact they could have on the state -- in job creation, hotel use and administrative costs.

"And then we could come up with a figure of -- wow, out of a $20 million budget, they could leave -- I'm making these figures up totally -- $6 million," he says by way of example. "Well, maybe it might be worth the state a $1.5 million [grant] to help them out to come in."

Healy says nowadays, most Delaware productions are reality television shows or small-budget films. But he says big productions like Dead Poets are what leave the biggest mark. He helped bring that film to Delaware, and says he still hears from people who were involved.

"It's amazing -- just this one little movie, what this one little movie did. If you ever saw Dead Poets -- every scene, every inch of film was shot here in the state of Delaware."

He's hoping the new commission will revive that reality for future productions. Appointments to the group are expected in the coming weeks.