Film incentives fade

While end of states program to lure movie, TV productions will have little effect locally, insiders still say its a step backward

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter



Did you know?

Several film and television projects have filmed at least partially in Vancouver, including:

“Extraordinary Measures,” a 2010 film starring Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell.

“Train Master II: Jeremiah’s Treasure,” a 2010 film starring Jeanine Jackson, Michael Biesanz and Ayanna Berkshire.

“Twilight,” a 2008 film starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.

“Leverage,” an ongoing TNT show starring Timothy Hutton that debuted in 2008.

“The Ring,” a 2002 film starring Naomi Watts.

“Shadow Play,” a 1986 film starring Cloris Leachman.

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Washington lawmakers opted not to extend the state’s film incentives program in the most recent legislative session.

It seems, however, that this decision, though disappointing to some, will have little impact on local filmmakers.

“Unless you’re a bigger filmmaker, you can’t take advantage of those things,” said Alexander “Sandy” MacKenzie, founder, president and chief executive officer of Highland Light Productions and writer and director of “Dancing on the Edge.” “If you’re a local filmmaker, it doesn’t do you much good.”

In addition, while larger projects may be less likely to locate in Washington without incentives, the local impact is less dramatic than elsewhere in the state because of Vancouver’s proximity to film-friendly Portland, said Bob Wadden, a production assistant and Vancouver resident.

Nonetheless, many local people involved with the film industry said they are disappointed to see Washington’s film incentive program end.

To qualify for the incentives, there are minimum spending requirements of $500,000 for film projects, $300,000 for television projects and $150,000 for commercials. Many local independent filmmakers are working on much tighter budgets than that.

Vancouver-based Highland Light Productions filmed the feature family film “Dancing on the Edge” in Clark County earlier this year. The total budget for the project was about $200,000, and therefore Highland Light wasn’t eligible for state incentives.

The film incentives program took effect in 2007 and offers up to a 30 percent return on qualified in-state spending. It was funded through business and occupation tax credits, and could raise up to $3.5 million per year.

Funds not spent one year could roll over for up to three years, so in 2010 Washington Filmworks, the Seattle-based nonprofit that administers the program, was able to give out more than $5.3 million in incentives.

State funding for the program sunset on June 30. However, Washington Filmworks raised $3.5 million in the first half of the year and will continue to offer incentives through the end of 2011.

Though he wasn’t able to take advantage of the program, MacKenzie is sad to see it go.

“It keeps people from coming in and doing things here,” he said. “It’s the film business. You’re going to go where you can get the most bang for your buck. Same as any industry.”

Some 40 states have film incentive programs. Oregon’s Legislature just opted to extends its film incentives program. Launched in 2005, the incentives were set to expire Jan. 1, 2012, but were extended through Jan. 1, 2018. That state’s level of funding, though, is dropping from $7.5 million per year to $6 million per year.

Our neighboring state offers a 20 percent rebate on goods and services and a return of up to 16.2 percent on personnel spending.

Oregon’s program does not stipulate that cast and crew must be state residents in order to qualify for labor incentives, but Washington’s does.

“All the rules in our program encourage renting local equipment, using local gear and hiring local cast and crew,” said Amy Lillard, the organization’s executive director. “The more you spend on Washington resources, the more return you get.”

Washington Filmworks will try to get the incentives program reinstated when the 2012 legislative session convenes in January, Lillard said.

Seventy projects have completed principal photography with the assistance of Washington’s incentives program since its

February 2007 launch, including 28 feature films, five television movies of the week and 27 regional and national commercials, according to Washington Filmworks.

Those 70 projects spent $66.1 million in the state and received $17.5 million in incentives, representing a profit of almost $50 million for the state, Lillard said.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, the independent body of the Legislature responsible for reviewing this program, suggested that the film industry has a multiplier effect of 1.99, which would mean that the incentives program has had more than $130 million of economic impact in Washington over the past five years, Lillard added.

Wadden, the Vancouver resident and production assistant, expects that Washington crew members who don’t live close to either Portland or Vancouver, B.C., another popular place for filming, will be most impacted by the end of the state’s incentives program.

Wadden has been in the film business for 21 years. He does most of his work in Portland and is a member of the Oregon Media Production Association’s Government Affairs and Business Development Committee.

Even if Clark County is better off than much of Washington, he said he is disappointed in the Legislature’s decision to stop funding incentives.

“What a mistake,” he said. “These are family-wage jobs that are just disappearing out of Washington.”

The importance of incentives in choosing film locations cannot be overstated, said Breven Angaelica Warren, a part-time Washougal resident, film producer and founder of the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival.

“The most valuable thing a location has is its incentives,” she said. “Without them, no matter how beautiful the venue, how perfect the location, the producer is probably going to push to have the film shot elsewhere. I think without incentives you miss out on the bigger-budget projects, which when it comes down to it are the ones that create more jobs.”

Films employ cast and crew, and there’s also the trickle-down effect that happens when those people patronize local businesses, eat at local restaurant and stay in local hotels.

To a smaller extent than if productions were headquartered here, there’s a benefit to Southwest Washington when Portland-based productions such as the TNT show “Leverage” do periodic location shoots in Vancouver.

The city gets revenues from special-events permits and parking. Sometimes, city buildings will be rented out for filming, which brings in more money.

“Leverage” filmed in Vancouver for a few days in early May, and the city invoiced the show just under $2,000 for permits, parking and to cover employee overtime, according to the city manager’s office.

Oregon’s incentives program is a big part of why “Leverage” films in the Northwest, said Eugene, Ore., resident Bobby Warberg, a location manager for the show.

Even though production is based in Portland, a number of people who work on the show, including flaggers and security personnel, live in Southwest Washington, Warberg said.

These are just a few examples of the employment opportunities that filming yields, according to Warren.

“Film creates tons of jobs,” she said.

Mary Ann Albright:;;; 360-735-4507.