You Want to Be in Pictures? At What Cost?

by ekramer on October 30, 2008

Earlier this month, a crowd of more than 100 people sat in the Kentucky Center’s Clark Todd Hall waiting for the start of the documentary “Beyond the Call.” The film was part of the Center’s Southern Tour of Independent Filmmakers Series. (It’s about three humanitarian workers that travel to hotspots around the globe delivering aid to poor and war-weary people. One of those workers was born in Louisville.)

Before the start of the film, Merry-Kay Poe, who’s with an organization called Lights, Camera, Kentucky, got up before the crowd to make her pitch. She asked everyone to support legislation for Kentucky’s 2009 General Assembly that would create tax credits and other incentives to get the movie industry to film in Kentucky. (An earlier bill to do this died in the state’s House of Representatives in April.)

Kentucky is a Johnny-come-lately to such an effort. More than 40 states offer incentive packages, with New Mexico, Louisiana and South Carolina touted as some of the most successful. Recent reports indicate Michigan’s efforts have brought a huge increase in the number of scripts that the state has approved for incentives. The state has tax credits that equal up to 42 percent for in-state film production expenses, and it estimates the deals it’s made with filmmakers will cost the government $122 million. It’s caused a bit of a brouhaha with some Michigan politicians and lobbyists. They are calling for an end to or a reduction of the incentives. Some of them are citing the economy and saying that the state should be helping businesses that are already in the state.

Meanwhile, there are reports coming out of Hollywood that the movie industry might not be recession proof this time. (It has performed well during previous economic slumps.) Industry insiders and analysts say that is due to expected decreases in consumer spending across the board, including not only going to the movie theater, but renting DVDs and subscribing to cable services.

Poe and her Lights, Camera, Kentucky team have plugged that the incentives will bring films here and that those, in turn, will produce local revenue and jobs and make movies that give outsiders a rosy view of the Commonwealth. The organization cites financial details from other states, and says “the cost of incentive programs is offset by the positive economic impact.” But it doesn’t specify that impact and exactly who will benefit. It also doesn’t address the costs to the state involved in bolstering a filming industry, and make a strong case justifying those outlays .

To get legislation passed, Lights, Camera, Kentucky might have to better define the concrete gains for Kentucky and its citizens, especially in these financial times. Consider that Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced today that the state faces an near $300-million shortfall this fiscal year. (Earlier this month, he announced that state tax revenues had fallen by 4.6 percent in September.)

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