Film producers alarmed by recommended cuts

Leaders of Missouri’s film production industry are warning that proposals to eliminate state incentives for movie productions might convince out-of-state filmmakers to go elsewhere, and may have already cost the state a $30 million film project in the St. Louis area.

The move comes as a Missouri-made film received an Oscar nomination for best picture for the second year in a row. On Tuesday, the Ozarks-based “Winter’s Bone,” was nominated for best picture, actress, supporting actor and adapted screenplay. “Up in the Air”, filmed partly in St. Louis, was nominated last year.

But as Missouri struggles with a difficult budget, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has recommended eliminating funds for the Missouri Film Office, which works as a liaison between out-of-state filmmakers and local professionals and locations. And in December, a bipartisan commission that considered all of the state’s 61 tax credit programs recommended elimination of a $4.5 million film production tax credit.

The commission said that the film credit “serves too narrow of an industry and fails to provide a positive return on investment to the state.”

Film production professionals argue that with more than 40 states offering film tax credits, any state that doesn’t will be out of the running, The Kansas City Star reported.

“The deal today is that without tax credits, you’re not a player,” said Jerry Jones, who leads the Missouri Film Office “We wouldn’t have had any feature films shot here in the last 10 years without these financial incentives. It’s just the nature of the beast.”

Jones said he worked with the makers of “Winter’s Bone” for four years before filming began, and the deal was clinched by the $259,000 in tax credits the state offered the film, which had a production budget of $2 million.

Promoters of film production point out that movie-making employs local residents for such roles as film crew members, drivers and extras. And people involved in the films spend money on hotels, catering and materials for set construction. The incentive program allows qualifying out-of-state filmmakers to claim Missouri tax credits for money paid to local vendors, cast and crew.

The state apparently has already lost out on a $20 million comedy, “Fun Size,” which “Up in the Air” producer Michael Beugg wanted to shoot this spring in St. Louis. Kim Tucci of the St. Louis Film Office said it would have had a $30 million economic impact.

Nixon approved $1 million in tax credits for the production, but Beugg has said he’ll look at other states that offer better deals. The Star reported that the front-runner is thought to be Louisiana, one of 15 states that don’t cap the amount of tax credits for out-of-state film production.

Detractors of the film tax credits call them “millions for Hollywood millionaires.” And some resent the way film producers play states against each other to get the best deals.

But State Sen. Jason Crowell, a Cape Girardeau Republican, said the tax credit commission’s recommendation was “a complete joke.”

“They recommended eliminating $4.5 million in film tax credits but don’t mention low income housing or historic preservation tax credits that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s like devoting resources to putting out a bush on fire and ignoring the house that’s burning down.”

Determining the actual economic benefit of a filmmaking tax credit is difficult because most economic impact formulas are designed for long-term industries, rather than movie productions that are short-lived, Jones said.

But Pearce said that it doesn’t matter that most film production jobs are short-term because tax credits “help ensure that there’s a film industry here so that when big projects do come, we’ve got the infrastructure to handle them.”

The campaign to keep the tax credits has started. The Missouri Motion Media Association, an umbrella organization of the state’s film professionals, last month hired a lobbyist to plead its case in Jefferson City.

Association founder Lorah Steiner of Columbia said the goal was to not only to protect the film tax credit, but to create a new one to encourage development of new communication technology.

“More and more of us are consuming on computers or iPhones or iPads the sort of content that formerly you could get only on TV,” Steiner said. “With those new platforms comes a demand for more content, content that is provided by film professionals. Investing in film keeps those skill sets in Missouri. At the same time, we need incentives to bring those new technologies here.”

On Tuesday, the association will hold its third annual legislative day in Jefferson City, when filmmakers from Missouri will work to educate lawmakers on their industry.

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