Malloy, Dodd celebrate a Connecticut film

The first film wholly produced at Twentieth Century Fox’s digital animation studios in Greenwich debuted in Hartford today at an event that was as much about the politics of economic development as about entertainment.

Fox’s Blue Sky Studios relocated to Connecticut two years ago as the state’s film tax credit program was coming under fire. Critics said it was so generous that only 11 percent of the $113.2 million spent on tax credits went for “actual Connecticut expenditures.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed curtailing the tax credit program, but he was happy to join studio executives and former Sen. Christopher Dodd, the new chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, in celebrating Blue Sky and its new release, Rio.

“This is the poster child for what we want done in Connecticut,” Malloy said.

In the case of Blue Sky, the tax credits help spur the construction of a digital animation studio that now employees 400 people at an average salary of $100,000, officials said. Malloy said he is happy to see the state invest in tax credits on permanent jobs.

But the governor said he remains opposed to extending tax credits on productions that film here for days or weeks, often putting little or no cash into the local economy. The 2009 study by Connecticut Voices for Children found that eight productions collected $9.3 million in state aid, while making no expenditure in the state.

“Catering trucks coming from New Jersey, who are buying their product in New Jersey, preparing their product in New Jersey, registering their trucks in New Jersey and driving to Connecticut is not something I want to be supporting,” Malloy said.

Malloy joined Dodd and several movie executives, including Jim Gianopulos, the chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, and Brian Keane, the chief operating officer of Blue Sky, at the Connecticut Science Center.

Dodd said he believed Malloy’s approach to narrowing the available credits was sound.

“This is a really a credit that actually encourages an industry to actually come and locate in the state, so I think the changes make a lot of sense,” Dodd said. “I think this is going to be good for everybody involved.”

Gianopulos noted that digital-animation films are produced in powerful computers, not on huge studio back lots. Economic policies, as well as an educated work force, drew the study to Greenwich, he said.

“We could have based Blue Sky in any of a 100 locations, communities, states, nations,” Gianopulos said.

“It’s got to be about Connecticut jobs,” Malloy said. “This, don’t make it a negative story, this is a very positive story. This is what we want.”

The studio held a special screening of the film for children from the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford.

The film will be broadly released on April 15.