January 30, 2012

Filmmakers Fight to Preserve Incentive

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Supporters of Oklahoma’s infant motion picture industry are on a mission to preserve a $5 million incentive program at a time when other states are scaling back their film subsidies.

A legislative task force assembled last year heard the case in support of the film program.

“I know every program is being scrutinized, but we’re tiny in the scheme of things,” said Jill Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office. “With the program capped at $5 million, we’re not attracting blockbusters. We’re not trying to create Hollywood in Oklahoma.”

The state’s film incentive program was started in 2001. But it didn’t take off until 2009, after the Legislature approved a more generous subsidy and lowered the minimum project size so lower-budget films could qualify.

The program provides filmmakers with a cash rebate equal to 35 percent of their production costs in Oklahoma. If they use Oklahoma-created music for their scores, the rebate goes up to 37 percent.

The Film and Music Office, a branch of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, tried unsuccessfully to get the Legislature to boost the program cap to $10 million in 2011.

Rep. David Dank, chairman of the legislative task force, said he wants advocates of the film program to show that the incentive is providing a positive economic return.

“We give them up to 37 percent of all of their costs, and there aren’t any full-time jobs from that,” said Dank, R-Oklahoma City. “They say there will be full-time jobs in the future. But I want to know when and where.”

In the past four years, state rebates have helped finance 20 feature films with production in Oklahoma, including 2010’s “The Killer Inside Me” featuring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba. Three months into the 2012 fiscal year, the program had already committed its entire $5 million allocation.

Simpson said this year’s $5 million state subsidy is expected to stimulate $15 million in direct spending by filmmakers for crew labor, lodging, food, supplies and other production expenses in Oklahoma. Although most of the work is temporary, she said the goal is to generate enough activity over time to support permanent employment for crew personnel and support firms.

Oklahoma’s rebate program is small in comparison to those offered in some states. Michigan’s film program, for example, was expected to top $100 million this year until state officials capped it at $25 million. Other states that have reduced or eliminated their programs include Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington.