Adaptive Studios, which recently rebooted HBO’s Project Greenlight with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, has acquired the rights to Astral, a dramatic thriller digital series created by Canadian filmmaker and actress Sonja O’Hara.
O’Hara (Amazon’s Creative Control) is also set to act and direct in the short-form series, a rare inclusion for indie episodic acquisitions. O’Hara, who is a speaker this week on the Indie TV panel at SXSW, said, “This is the time to be a female filmmaker and I’m excited to collaborate with Adaptive Studios to bring this provocative, inclusive, feminist story to life.”
ASTRAL is a provocative digital series that follows three unfulfilled millennial girls who share an out-of-body experience in a packed subway car and are scouted to attend an exclusive academy of Astral Projection.
About Sonja O’Hara:
O’Hara landed the overall deal by meeting Adaptive‘s VP of Development, Digital at ITVFest (the Independent Television Festival) in Manchester, Vermont, a boutique festival for the world’s best indie creators and executives, where O’Hara’s previous series Doomsday won “Best Series”.O’Hara previously created and starred in Doomsday, a critically acclaimed web series she made independently (see the first two episodes on Amazon Prime). Her pilot was awarded “Best Series” at ITVFest, HollyWeb Fest and Brooklyn WebFest and was nominated for the 2017 Streamy Award and the 2018 Indie Series Award. She also won “Best Director” at the prestigious New York Television Festival and was chosen as one of the “Ten Filmmakers To Watch” by Independent Magazine.
Adaptive Studios, the studios behind Coin Heist (Netflix), has made a push into digital content with the launch of The Runner for Verizon’s go90. The upstart studio that has put an emphasis on short-form content for digital platforms, has closed a $16.5 million Series B round of funding, led by AMC Networks with participation from Atwater Capital. Adaptive’s partners to date have included HBO, Netflix, Verizon, Miramax, FX Networks, YouTube Red, Fox Animation, 21 Laps, Lionsgate, Gunpowder & Sky, Bona Fide Production and Blackpills. The series will be executive produced by Perrin Chiles, TJ Barrack, Marc Joubert, Stephen Christensen and Kate Grady.
If you’re not going to the Independent Television Festival, recently moved to Manchester, Vermont, the weekend starting Wednesday October 11, you’re probably either not in the know or you’re just not in the business, especially if you’re living in New England. ITVFest entering its second decade after moving from Hollywood to Vermont four years ago under the tutelage of Philip Gilpin, Jr., a visionary industry veteran, wanted to set the festival apart from the milieu of noise in California,
where it’s hard to get attention between festivals,premieres, and award seasons. And that he has done, making it the go to place for all the majors including to name a few, HBO, Viacom, Bravo, and
growing management and finance companies such as Buffalo 8.
Participants include producers such as Bobby Farrelly (THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, DUMB AND DUMBER), Kris Meyer (ME, MYSELF & IRENE, FEVER PITCH), Bernie Su (The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) winner of two Primetime Emmys and four Streamy Awards, and Dana Kuznetzkoff (Boardwalk Empire, Smash), and showrunners such as Jerome Perzigian (Frasier, The Nanny, The Golden Girls), Joel Surnow (24, La Femme Nikita, Miami Vice) and Richard Korson (The Daily Show). Executives from the full gamut of TV programming, both traditional and non-traditional, including, to name a few, NBC Universal, Comedy Central, IFP, HBO, IFC TV, Discovery Channel, and Bravo, and new content companies such as Adaptive Studios, New Form, and Jash, all participate. While this is called a festival, it is far more like a market for industry insiders, and in the know climbers, who want direct access to decision makers.
I was asked to be on a panel and moderate another panel two years ago (2015), and returned last year
to moderate several panels enthusiastically to join my ITVFest family of regulars, who include content producers such as Jesse Albert, former agent at ICM, Khara Campbell, who produced in-house at AOL, the glamorous and A-list vegan chef Leslie Durso, and comedy writer Mike Rotman, whose credits include Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher for which he was nominated for a Primetime
Emmy. Asked to join the Board of Advisors (who in actuality appointed me followed by my whole hearted consent, as you don’t say “no” to Phil Gilpin) last year, I did so happily, as amongst the big five festivals and markets that I regularly attend (AFM, Sundance, Berlinale, Cannes and TIFF), ITVFest stands out as a place where the networking leads forward to real projects, real clients, and real friendships, all in Vermont during fall foliage, at the loveliest time of year. To really profit from a visit to ITVFestival coming up in just four weeks, pack your business cards, a pad of
paper to take massive notes on (or, ok, just use your smart phone), your casual clothing, and a pair of hiking boots for good luck.
No one that consumes TV today is surprised that Variety recently noted that traditional TV is dying rapidly. Yet content providers have a deep need for programming, and are looking for nontraditional
sources, as budgets inevitably must come down as advertising must spread itself wider to the array of channels and websites providing content. ITVFest is a worldwide community of creatives and executives making and sourcing episodic programming (both fi ction and nonfiction), and currently ITVFest is the only festival in the United States that focuses exclusively on independently produced content with content submissions from over twenty countries each year. There will be literally hundreds of executives on hand at this year’s event providing a pipeline for direct connections to major networks, digital television, agents, managers, attorneys, writers, showrunners, and producers.
Manchester, Vermont is a vibrant arts community set in Central Vermont with a nearby airport, and easy access from New York, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, and Toronto by car, and the city has embraced ITV. New production incentives are available through the Vermont Production Council to give episodic content creators resources to produce their next projects. Thus the location is a win win for attendees and the state alike. There are prizes for the winners of this year’s multitude of submissions, and opportunities for development meetings, potential management, meetings with literary agents, and professional script consultation. Pack your bags, and head to glorious Vermont for some leaf peeping and opportunity in the television business.
First the good news: I am happy to report that my surgery early in March was a complete success! Cancer free and pathologies negative. It has been a long battle for me, but failing has never been an option in my mind. I still have radiation to go, but for now, I’m feeling great and have rolled up my sleeves to defend the Massachusetts Film Tax Credits against H62.
You may recall that IMAGINE Magazine introduced Film Tax Credits to New England in the early 2000’s and I wrote the first definitive piece on why we should pass film tax credits in 2004. As soon as that issue of IMAGNE hit the street, my office got a call from the Governor Romney’s office asking for twenty copies. That changed the nature of our struggle. The rest is history, we were able to introduce legislation, educate all the elected class and pass the Massachusetts Film Tax credits in 2005; and we made them better in 2006!
Since our inception in 1998, film tax credits and growing this industry has been our #1 mission. We have been defending them ever since. It’s a 24/7/365 responsibility, which is why IMAGINE has a full time Director of Government Relations. We need to know where our elected officials stand on our issues all the time.
We have always known that overnight our main attraction of major productions, both studio and independent, to bring their work to our state can be challenged. A recent case in point is Connecticut when in late June in 2013 the Connecticut’s Film Office awoke one morning to find the state’s tax credits for film had been suspended for two years!
Many people do not understand what tax credits are designed to do. What they are not designed to do is easier to understand. Tax Credits are not designed to put money directly into government coffers. Period. The end! Why is it always judged on that misconception?
Tax Credits, and particularly Film Tax Credits, are designed to pour money into an existing economy; money that would not otherwise be available with the purpose of, in our instance, of creating an industry, stimulating job creation and other desired results that hugely benefit the Commonwealth. For example the Commonwealth could not afford to buy the attention, awareness and attraction of the really special visitors to our state, including the productions themselves that create the industry of tourism. Countless new businesses have arrived. I wish we knew how much collectively they paid the state to do business here.
When a production buys, rents or hires everything it needs here, cast and crew, talent trailers, equipment of all kinds, lumber, paint, hardware, hotel rooms, catering, transportation, waste management (yes, waste management, it’s a big ticketed item), chiropractors and much more, too numerous to mention, the desired results are achieved. The point being that every dollar the production spends ends up being business or personal income that will be taxed by the Commonwealth. In addition much of that money will be re-spent here creating more taxes for the state, cities and towns. Ultimately, all those dollars end up in a federal, state, or municipal coffer.
Consider this: As a result, Massachusetts has many very famous new taxpayers.
The film R.I.P.D spent a boat load of money here. Whether or not the film was a success or failure at the box office has nothing to do with the success of Tax Credits. The production was on location in and around Boston for six months, sometimes with five or six crews shooting at once. R.I.P.D. spent more than any other production in the Commonwealth’s history; they also didn’t break anything, they didn’t pollute or use any social services. They paid for everything before they left. Everyone who worked on R.I.P.D., no matter where they are from, paid taxes in Massachusetts! That includes Ryan and Bridges.
There is no exact formula for calculating the worth of a film tax credit. But, we are getting pretty close to being able to do that. I take great exception to being judged by anyone who apparently doesn’t understand what a tax credit is designed to do, particularly those who use the glamour of our industry to write head turning headlines, especially when they have no appreciation of the thousands of names in the credits at the end of the film, the countless businesses that provided services, or just how hard and yes, unglamorous, it is to make a film.
In my estimation there is no doubt we can prove our worth.
The next edition of IMAGINE puts a spotlight on this issue and we’ve designed a special section dedicated to our industry’s success and our importance to the state and region. I believe I am writing another definitive piece – a big one.
If you have an industry related business that began in MA after the tax credits were incepted or you are an individual that moved to MA or moved back to MA to work in this industry because of the tax credits, please drop me a note – I’d like to include your experience in our special section.
We are also focusing on NAB and the Massachusetts high tech industry that exhibits at NAB in Las Vegas April 11th – 16th. We’ll be there with a gigantic bonus distribution and huge presence. And we have Film Festival Previews for you.
If you would like to advertise in this edition please contact me. Ad Copy deadline is Monday, March 30, 2015. Please book space now.
I’m seated mid-row in the overly air-conditioned auditorium of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. It’s Day 3 of a conference on “Film Financing” – State Incentives Day. Assembled on stage is a panel of film commissioners and tax credit brokers. For this session, there are no empty chairs. The topic has drawn the full house of film finance attendees – producers, investors, movie execs, ready to take notes on the information to come. Each panelist takes a turn, their talk is heavy with lingo “refund, rebate, first-come, pre-cert, res, non-res, cap, no cap, carryover, carry-forward, sunset, offset…. doc or no doc?”
Backstory: “Runaway Production”
In the 1990’s, the United States was losing one of its original and most profitable industries. The production of movies and television was moving overseas – not for the lure of unique and exotic locations – but for the
straight mathematics of production budgeting. The tax credits offered by foreign governments meant maintaining production value at a lower cost – a sensible and attractive prospect to any industry. Recognizing the economic value of production, in 2004, Congress responded with one effort to curtail the “runaway production” by enacting section 181 of the internal revenue code.(1) But the legislation most successful in reversing the movement overseas came from the individual states.
In 2000, only three states offered any incentive for media production. By 2013, all but six states offer some form of incentive.(2) The individual states and certain “State Incentives” can be credited for reversing a trend
overseas and bringing the industry back home. In return, a state can benefit from the increased economic activity which production brings and inspires. Because there are benefits, there is competition. Any comparison involves
a complicated grid of variables, with no two programs exactly alike. So, which states offer the best incentives?
Incentive Types “Refund, Rebate”
First, the programs vary by “Type of Incentive”. A look at the New England states alone shows some ranges in Type – Tax Credits, Rebates, and Sales Tax Exemptions. The most common Incentive is a business tax credit that productions “earn” for spending on costs incurred in the state (CT, MA, ME, RI), but which vary in percentage rate and earning base.
The New England states earn Tax Credits at rates ranging from 5% (ME) up to 30% (CT). The tax credits come with other incentives – Exemptions on sales tax or hotel tax, or fee-free locations. Other states offer Rebates (ME) or just the Exemptions, alone (VT).
Typically, a production must spend at least a certain amount in the state to qualify for an Incentive program (“Minimum Spend”). What specific expenses constitute the Minimum Spend will vary by Program because certain expenses
will be eligible to earn Incentives (“Qualified Costs”) and others will not. Also, the amount of Incentive a project will earn is subject to multiple, sometimes overlapping, variables, including the type of spending, budget Tiers, the timing of the spending, the specific costs, etc. Part II of the
Series will address those multiple variables, including the important “Residency Requirements”.
“Doc or No Doc?” Qualified Projects
Whether a certain media project is eligible under an Incentives program is determined by the category, meaning, the production must be a “Qualified Project” (e.g., Feature Film, TV Program or Series, Commercials). Most all states exclude productions featuring news, talk and game shows, sporting events, awards shows, fundraising, infomercials, industrials, and “obscene” productions. Some states include Video Games and Digital Animation, while others exclude Documentary and Reality Television.
Back at 10am I was listening intently, sketching state features into a comparison chart. For the most part, the panel is preaching the virtues of the states they represent. It’s now 10:40, the rooms in Los Angeles are too cold and the talk is fading for lack of objectivity. The California Film
Commissioner has my attention when she forthrightly admits that her state has an Annual Cap –there’s some disappointment in the room – but she also reports two years positive ROI and that’s met with approval. I’m planning my escape from the middle row to retrieve a sweater, when someone asks the panel, “What about the other New England states?” Finally. Now someone will tell these 500 people about my own great state – Massachusetts. The Connecticut representative responds to the effect that “Vermont and New Hampshire have
no programs – Rhode Island’s been busy – Massachusetts offers 25%” … “but hasn’t been able to attract any real business.”
What? I raise my hand. Someone please bring me the microphone….
The Massachusetts Incentives
Since 2006, Massachusetts has provided an Incentive (Tax Credits), to encourage the media production business within the state. The Massachusetts Film Incentives were enacted during Governor Romney’s administration prompted by efforts from local business interests and state legislators (see IMAGINE October 2004), and is overseen by the Executive Office of Economic Development. The Department of Revenue (DOR) is responsible fo administrating the program – reviewing applications and issuing the tax credits in the form of Certificates. The MA Incentives been quite successful in attracting outside
motion picture and television production, stimulating industry activity and allowing local companies to be internationally competitive. Between 2006 and 2011, the DOR issued over $300 Million in MA film tax credit Certificates, 3 which represents over $1.3 Billion spending on “Qualified Costs” (i.e., Production & Labor costs incurred in connection with a MA “Qualified Project”).
The MA Incentives offer a production company the ability to earn MA tax credits based on spending, a sales tax exemption, and state fee-free locations. The MA tax credits are issued in the form of Certificates, which may be used to satisfy Massachusetts income tax liabilities (both corporate excise and personal income tax). The Certificate functions like a coupon – redeemable only for paying those tax bills to Massachusetts. The Certificates
are effective for the tax year issued, and any balance may be carried forward up to five years. Accordingly, the film tax credits are valuable to any individual or business who pays taxes in Massachusetts.
How do MA tax credits incentivize out-of-state companies – like a Hollywood studio? A key feature is that the tax credit Certificates are designed to be “Transferable”. The applicant production company may itself be organized and
operated in another state (e.g., CA) and, therefore, has no significant or immediate tax liability to Massachusetts. That production company may transfer/assign the Certificates they earn to a MA taxpayer, who acquires the tax credits to satisfy their own MA tax liabilities – at a discount. Each
transfer is recorded by the DOR. The result is cash realized for the production company and savings for that MA taxpayer.
Back to Hollywood and the Roosevelt Hotel… I stand up, not to leave, but to take the microphone offered me and say something like this, “Massachusetts? We offer a 25% tax credit earn on a $50K minimum spend, Res & Non Res, Caps? No Annual, No Project, No Salary, Fully Transferable, Refundable at .90, No Pre-Cert, Sunset 2023, and yes…Docs.” The audience approves. I sit down and someone pokes me in the back. “So we’ve financed a major vehicle that’s scheduled for MA. So, MA is…good?” With all objectivity, yes, Massachusetts is great.
Entertainment Attorney, Emily McNamara, Esq., is a Boston Entertainment
Attorney, specializing in the business and financial aspects of the media industries. Emily consults to Productions on the Massachusetts Production Incentives and can be reached at Emily@EmilyMcNamaraEsq.com.
(1): IRC Section 181 provides an Investor a full tax deduction for the costs of producing qualified independent film & television project. A taxpayer may deduct 100% of the qualified costs in the calendar year that they are
paid or incurred, rather than capitalizing the costs through depreciation allowances over a period of years. Section 181 expired in 2010 and was recently renewed as part of the “Fiscal Cliff.”
(2): Every U.S. State & Puerto Rico has an active Incentive, except Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, and South Dakota (Michigan will Sunset, New Hampshire Incentives legislation introduced in 2013). Nebraska, Nevada, and North Dakota offer only Hotel Tax Exemptions.
(3): Based on DOR Reports years 2006-2010, including the 2011 estimate of $222m reflected in the 2010 DOR Report.
Earlier this year at AFCI 2004, I had the opportunity to meet with over 30 countries and many states in the United States to learn about the current status of their incentive programs designed to lure billions of movie production and telefilm dollars. It is clear that the countries, states, and municipalities that invested in well designed and useful incentive programs were snaring the lions share of the billions of dollars now being spent mainly in Canada, Australia, Hungary and other incentivized hot spots on the globe. In Mark Litwak’s Legal Lens column in this issue of IMAGINE he reports that the U.S. Department of Commerce estimated in 2001, that foreign tax incentives cost the U.S. economy more than $10 billion per year. Read his report for the worldview.
The United States at the federal level has been unsuccessful at passing film production incentives. In 2001, IMAGINE reported and supported the passage of Senate Bill 1613 (originally introduced as SB 1278 in July 2001). The bill was read twice in September 2003 and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance, where it hasn’t been heard from since in spite of some significant support for the bill, which would have provided tax credits equal to 25% of the qualified wages paid on a production whose total costs range from $200,000 to $7.5 million.
On a by state basis aggressive tax incentive programs began to noticeably creep onto the American landscape in 2002. It became apparent to some states that offering bigger incentives would lure the business away from the states that would not offer as much. Several states have emerged as clear leaders and winners in this process and now it’s quite likely that we will see the war of the incentives as the not so ready states begin to jump on the incentive band wagon.
Until recently New York did not have production tax credits at the city or state level. Their competitive edge was their focus on customer service through their superb state offices, free permitting, parking, and police assistance and their great locations, crew base, and laudable artistic talent. In August this year, Governor George Pataki has enthusiastically supported a series of landmark tax incentives for film and television production aimed at curbing his state’s runaway filmmaking. After all it is a $5 billion industry for New York.
While the governor did make 195 vetoes to the state budget tallying $1.8 billion in cuts, the film and TV legislation went through unscathed. The filmmaking law now provides $100 million over four years – $25 million annually – to cover tax write-offs for film and TV projects produced in New York. The bill also allows New York City to provide as much as $12.5 million in annual tax credits for production in the city.
To be eligible for the program, which covers below-the-line costs, production entities have to book 75% of a their stage work in-state, meaning that projects could not get credits simply by hitting town and filming New York exteriors, then heading elsewhere.
Eligible productions include feature films, television films, pilots and each episode of a television series. Commercials are not included, which may provide an opening for nearby competing states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts interested in developing a strong and lucrative commercial business.
Once the bug bites in a region the incentive game is on. Last month Governor Edward G. Rendell signed House Bill 147 into law, which provides for a 20% Film Production Tax Credit. “Filmmakers continue to discover that Pennsylvania is an ideal location for film production,” said Governor Rendell. “With widely diverse locales and innovative benefits, Pennsylvania is dedicated to helping filmmakers make their projects a reality.”
The tax credit is available for feature films, television series and television shows of 15 minutes or more in length, intended for a national audience. Production expenses that are eligible for a tax credit include wages and salaries, construction, operations, editing, photography, sound synchronization, lighting, wardrobe and accessories and the cost of rental of facilities and equipment. Marketing and advertising costs cannot be applied toward the tax credit.
In order to further qualify for the tax credit, 60 percent of the total production expenses must be incurred in Pennsylvania. If the taxpayer cannot use the entire amount of the approved tax credit for the taxable year in which it was first approved, the excess may be carried over to the succeeding three taxable years and used as a credit against the qualified tax liability of the taxpayer. In addition, upon approval by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, a taxpayer may sell or assign, in whole or in part, a Film Production Tax Credit. “The crucial carry over component will allow Pennsylvania’s budding filmmakers who may not yet have a tax liability to sell or assign their unused credits for cash to qualified taxpayers,” said Governor Rendell. “The increased cash flow will allow the developing filmmakers to continue or even increase their film production work flow.”
The Department of Revenue and the Pennsylvania Film Office will jointly administer the Film Production Tax Credit. Since 1977, the Film Office has been providing support services to the film industry as part of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
Few states have been as aggressive with their incentive plans as the state of New Mexico. Not long ago, not much in the way of film production was going on in the state except for horse operas and an occasional historical docudrama. If you weren’t shooting a western, you just didn’t think of shooting in New Mexico.
But that has changed since March of 2002 when Governor Bill Richardson helped institute a meaningful rebate program that refunds 15% of the total taxable dollars a production spends in New Mexico, along with this strong kicker: New Mexico also created the New Mexico Film Investment Program, empowered to grant no-interest loans of up to $7.5 million to productions that shoot at least 50% of their film in the state and fill at least 60% of their below-the-line payroll with New Mexico residents.
In no time BLIND HORIZON with Val Kilmer, Tom Cruise produced SUSPECT ZERO, and ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING starring Kim Basinger, were able to take advantage of the loan program. New Mexico is seeing the most production it has ever had and it is devastating for its neighbors, Arizona to the West and Colorado to the North, both most likely will be taking up incentives soon. Still it will be hard for them to compete as NM is also offering a 6% sales tax reduction plan obtainable at the point of sale for almost all taxable production expenses. The State continues to offer a Workforce Training Program and a Mentorship Program through the New Mexico Film Office and IATSE Local 480. To boot, productions have Fee-Free use of over 800 State Buildings including a closed 1940’s era penitentiary and a training facility that has been used for office, stage and construction space.
Well thought through, professionally administered, all encompassing, and now it’s not only westerns, but also thrillers, horror, and romantic comedies being made in New Mexico. New Mexico has become a magnet for the biz and the buzz. Boston’s own entertainment attorney and movie producer, Elaine Rogers, is arranging a shoot in New Mexico.
Film production in Chicago peaked in 1999 when $125 million was brought in by film productions like WHAT WOMEN WANT and TV shows like “Early Edition.” Then a dramatic drop began. That would be shortly after the Chicago Film Office lost their Executive Director to another western (not New Mexico) State that has really picked up over the last five years. The years 2002 and ’03 pulled in only about $25 million and, to add insult to injury, the movie CHICAGO was shot in Toronto.
Chicago and by extension the state of Illinois fought back by passing new tax laws that introduced, among other things, a tax credit equal to 25% of the wages paid to Illinois residents working on television and film projects shot in the state. This year, OCEAN’S TWELVE, THE WEATHERMAN, and ICE HARVEST directed by Harold Ramis and starring John Cusack, have shot in Chicago and other areas of Illinois. BATMAN BEGINS held a massive extras casting and is due to start filming there – with Chicago standing in for Gotham City. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR also is due to lens in Illinois, even though the film is set on Long Island, N.Y.
To date, the expenditures total $75 million, and more than 8,050 jobs have been created, according to the Illinois Film Office.
There is a catch: the Illinois tax incentives expire by year’s end. But, if a production files intent to film by the deadline, it can qualify on any productions that shoot during the next two years.
The Illinois Senate has approved a four-year renewal, but the House of Representatives amended it to one. The one-year extension has been kicked back to the Senate for approval. Insiders are hopeful that it will pass in the next few weeks.
The Illinois initial legislation was difficult to get approved. Not everyone is convinced of its benefits and like other states we know, Illinois does not typically provide tax incentives. But, when you discover that your film office is sending police car decals and Cubby uniforms to Toronto its time for dramatic action! Yet, it appears some are still yearning for the old days when Illinois was a great place for film without any kind of tax incentive.
Fortunately for the city, it has some loyal alumni. It was Ramis and Cusack’s loyalty to their home state that pushed them to persuade the local unions to make the numbers work so that ICE HARVEST could film in Illinois. The Chicago budget they came out with narrowly came in under a proposed Toronto budget by a mere $50,000.
And State Street Pictures’ Bob Teitel and George Tillman Jr. hope to do what John Hughes did in the ’80s by making all of their films in Chicago. So far, they have shot five films in the city, even changing the setting of their current production, ROLL BOUNCE from San Diego to Chicago.
Louisiana’s Motion Picture Incentive Act has produced a robust slate of production for the state with Walt Disney Studios’ hoops drama GLORY ROAD shooting there as well as DreamWorks’ DREAMER. TV projects before the cameras include CBS’ “The Canal Street Brothel” and the Fox pilot “Thief.”
According to GLORY ROAD producer Jerry Bruckheimer, it is Louisiana’s tax incentives that attracted his production.
“They give you quite a break,” Bruckheimer told the Hollywood Reporter. “It turns out to be quite worthwhile, and you can save quite a bit of money. … It’s the only reason we’re there.” Bruckheimer says, “GLORY ROAD cut $4 million off its budget by going to New Orleans.”
The production bustle in New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are the direct result of tax incentives introduced in 2002. With films like Steven Zaillian’s ALL THE KING’S MEN also scheduled to shoot in the state, film production is still on the rise, and Louisiana should see more than $200 million in production this year.
The state offers a 20% payroll tax credit for the employment of Louisiana residents, an exclusion from state sales and use tax as well as a tax credit for investors who reside in the state. It’s a good idea to budget extra money for legal and accounting as the Louisiana plans are said to be complex and unwieldy
A common question being asked is can the town handle the boom? Are there enough experienced crews to work on the sets? Everyone says yes. But, just in case, the state and city are drawing up plans. “We are aggressively pursuing training programs with the unions, with other private institutions and with educational institutions,” says Stephanie Dupuy, Executive Director of the New Orleans Film & Video Commission.
In New England, modest film production incentives have been legislated in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Both Rhode Island and Massachusetts have the issue “in play” at this time. Meanwhile, these two states are left to other devices to attract business, like buying it. And that’s not as uncommon as one might think.
Take North Carolina, for example, rising in the 90’s to a dominant position as the leading film and TV production center outside of NYC and LA. The state boasted experienced union crew at the low end of the IATSE pay scale, ample studio space (28 major soundstages) and locales that could stand in for everywhere from Massachusetts (THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER) to the moon (MUPPETS IN SPACE). But, without incentives, North Carolina saw their film and TV production revenue fall from their all-time high of $504 million in 1993 to $230.8 million in 2003.
When “Dawson’s Creek” went off the air and the North Carolina epic, COLD MOUNTAIN, set in the state moved to Romania, the state devised a “way” to keep “One Tree Hill” in the state when it threatened to move to Vancouver. They did a three-way partnership with the city, the county, and the state. The city and the county each put in $125,000 and the state put up $500,000 to “give” the “Hill” production $750,000 to stay in the state. That’s buying the business and frequently it makes sense particularly if a film or TV program features the resources of the state in a desirable manner conducive to attracting more business and lucrative tourists.
Without a proper state sanctioned film office and no incentive programs in place, Massachusetts could not bring enough support together to garner the full production schedule of 50 days in Massachusetts for FEVER PITCH (final score Boston 10, Toronto 40), although some gave a good college try. The Farrelly brothers themselves and some quality state officials kept it from being just a 2 or 3 day-shoot. Speaking of a “good college try” Boston University played an important role.
Conversely, Rhode Island Film Office Executive Director, Steven Feinberg (see IMAGINE September 04 story by Vin Fraioli), managed an excellent effort to get every scene of “The Brotherhood” Showtime pilot, which committed $4.5 million for the pilot and on the pilot’s success, an additional $36 million to shoot the season. Feinberg co-coordinated the support of the city, the state, and members of the hospitality industry and the unions. As a result, Rhode Island elected officials are preparing to standardize production incentives in Rhode Island with legislation being introduced and acted on this fall.
Press in Massachusetts has been printing much about the prospects of the industry in the Commonwealth and now about the possibility of incentive legislation being filed here. Even a Boston business journal jumped on the subject noting the turf “squabbles” waged by two vying entities that have come at the expense of the local film industry. But, even their report didn’t fact check numbers, mainly looked at the possible formation of a separate Boston Film Office at City Hall. As in the Commonwealth, the City of Boston also has confusion in the marketplace about whether or not there is a film office to serve it. Their piece quoted that the Massachusetts Film Industry had averaged around $500 million in annual revenue before the state and city offices were shuttered. That is an unfortunate and grossly untrue assertion. My question is how did they check that out if they did?
The State needs “honest brokers” to explain to the people of Massachusetts that they can benefit from this business and that there will be a fair accounting to the taxpayer. Massachusetts has never approached $500 million in one year in film/allied production, not even with the use of the most generous of economic multipliers, much less average that amount.
The first consideration in the Commonwealth is to clear up the confusion and spell out its plans and legislation for a legitimate state sanctioned and controlled professional film office. Then the incentives plans can be developed and the Governor’s Office and the Legislature can establish which office of government will provide legitimate accounting, oversight, and administration of the myriad of details. It isn’t a willy-nilly task to be taken lightly, just ask Republican Governors Bush and Pataki, or Democrat Governors Richardson and Rendell among others. However, Massachusetts may be moving to a position to be up to the task as members of the House and Senate again roll-up their sleeves to initiate legislation. The Governor is also poised to act in the best interest of the state.
Connecticut offers substantial tax exemptions and business incentives for entertainment and media producers. There is a full exemption of sales and use tax. The 6% CT sales tax is waived for most production services and rentals.
There is a 5-year exemption on local property tax for machinery and equipment used in the production industry. The state also reimburses municipalities for taxes they waive for the “brick and mortar” facilities. Hotel taxes are waived after 30 days. The state offers fee-free locations of state owned properties, some of them quite incredible. Workforce development funds, a Challenge Grant Program, and special incentive programs such as Enterprise Zones are available to the production industry. Connecticut legislators are reviewing several potential models to see what else can be done to improve opportunities for film and television production in the State.
Vermont incentives are more modest. Sales and use taxes are exempted for goods and services purchased and used in the making of the film. A good example of this is a lamp purchased for the use of dressing a set is exempt; a lamp purchased for the use in the production office is not. And Vermont hotel taxes are exempted on stays of 31 days or longer, not to be confused with exemptions on the number of days over 31 days.
Maine’s industry incentives are a little more varied. Maine based production companies and out-of-state production companies working in Maine can apply for sales tax exemptions for equipment and machinery purchases, and fuel and electricity costs. Production companies staying in Maine hotels for more than 28 consecutive days can apply for a lodging tax reimbursement. And a number of Maine public lands, including many Maine state parks, are offered to qualified productions without location fees. Qualified productions may also borrow, free of charge, furniture and other surplus property from the State of Maine. In the past, productions have found free furniture and equipment to outfit production offices and to use as props.
New Hampshire, of course, has no sales tax. That is its built in tax incentive.
Amidst the fierce competition to bring the production business back to the good ole USA, almost every state and many cities either have or are” talking” about incentive programs they believe will work for them. There are other additional considerations like a film office that provides “one-stop shopping,” well trained casts and crews, friendly unions, easy access, varied looks and architecture, infrastructure, and a general eagerness to accommodate the needs of producers and major studios. The atmosphere and environment must be conducive to the production work.