It’s safe to come out of hiding now. The fervor of the election is behind us, and though the propaganda and speculation continues and the votes are still being counted, I’ll take Attorney General Rob McKenna’s concession speech (curiously posted via YouTube) as proof-positive that Washington will maintain a democrat in the governor’s seat as it has for the past three decades.
This race held Washington’s film community in the balance. At stake was an incentive program credited for Seattle’s recent boom in filmmaking success. Governor-elect Jay Inslee promises to hold steadfast onto the program, so whether one leans left or right, those invested in our film scene should be happy about that.
Earlier this year, Christine Gregoire signed the Motion Picture Incentive program back into law after it was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives 92 to 6. Established in 2007, but then cut in 2011, the program rivals similar tax deduction and incentive plans found in 39 other states. This means that films like SIFF’s standout festival-opener Your Sister’s Sister will continue to be produced here as opposed to the lush land of our neighbors in Oregon and British Columbia. Washington lost many viable projects to our neighbors in our time without the incentive program, which is why productions that purported to take place here found refuge elsewhere.
Seattle has overwhelmingly agreed that it wants the significant number of jobs (and limelight) affiliated with in-house projects to continue as they have in recent months because of in-state filming. When a film like Twilight or a show like Grey’s Anatomy is set in Seattle (or Forks, if we’re being Twi-hard sticklers), tourism sees huge spikes. But much is lost when the production takes place elsewhere, as was the case with both of the aforementioned projects. By allotting a 30 percent tax deduction for those involved with projects filmed in our state, the Motion Picture Incentive program promotes the use of local crews, hotel and car rentals, and thus drives tourism. More importantly, it ensures that our own talented filmmakers don’t seek production elsewhere, as that is integral to Seattle’s film industry growth.
Our film incentive program is at present the most competitive and successful of its kind. According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) there are “81 projects approved for funding assistance through Washington Filmworks, and bringing in an estimated $76M in direct spending to our statewide economy,” with benefits of the bill 689 percent greater than its costs. (via Washington Filmworks’ blog) Furthermore, Washington is the only state whose film incentive program requires healthcare and retirement benefits for its workers and demands that the economic benefit is not given to the approved production until after it has invested in Washington’s economy and hired local workers.Besides seeing familiar locales like Garfield High School and the Fisherman’s Terminal in the upcoming One Square Mile starring Academy Award winner Kim Bassinger and Academy Award nominee Richard Jenkins, productions that film here solidify our growing reputation as a film force to be reckoned with. Along with creating jobs and injecting serious cash-flow into our statewide economy, our incentive program allows us to compete with cities that can offer higher pay like New York and Los Angeles.
I spoke with Matt Lillard about his Seattle-based directorial debut Fat Kid Rules the World while working with SIFFtv. He had been interested in filming in Seattle for myriad reasons, but what made it possible was the nonprofit Washington Filmworks, headed by Amy Lillard. Washington Filmworks manages the incentive programs and was integrated with Washington’s Film Office in 2009. It offers vital production services like location scouting and work permit acquisitions for minors through their close ties to the state’s departments of revenue, labor and ecology. Without these incentive programs, Fat Kid would have been forced to film in New York, the setting of the novel from which it was adapted. But enough of the numbers. Enough of the celebrity endorsements. I am bringing up the Motion Picture Incentive program now because—even though it is already law—the future of this program and our identity as a filmmaking state was up for grabs during the recent election. Governor-elect Jay Inslee showed devout solidarity for the program when he expressed his interest in closing tax loopholes that “don’t create jobs and protecting programs that do.” He went on to add that he recognizes that, “The film and television industry employs nearly 10,000 people in our state, an important number on its own. Even more valuable are all the people who benefit indirectly. Film and TV production means jobs for small businesses across Washington—caterers, florists, truck drivers, hotel operators and countless more middle-class jobs made possible or made better by money spent making movies, television and commercials in our state.”
Beyond it being “fun” to recognize familiar backdrops in major films, it is vital to our economy and our filmmaking industry to continue to encourage television and film production here in Washington State, which Inslee had promised he would continue to do as governor. It seems wrong to kick McKenna after he has already lost the election, but his opinion on the incentive program was vague and somewhat ominous. When speaking with KUOW’s Steve Scher on the topic, McKenna mentioned “newly created tax deductions” that he would cut, citing the film incentive program seconds later.
“I think one of them was for a tax preference to encourage Hollywood film production in our state. You know, if we are going to be disciplined about reviewing existing tax preferences and eliminating those that don’t make sense for the state, we ought to be careful about creating new ones as well because they are a kind of expenditure.”
Washington Filmworks was quick to point out that the program isn’t necessarily a “new tax preference,” but a program with a five-year history of creating jobs and economic development within our state. McKenna later clarified that the program had a newly extended sunset date after proving that it was meeting all of its goals, but that such programs should continue to be upheld to rigorous review lest they “outlive their usefulness.”
I have no doubt that the Motion Picture Incentive program will continue to meet its goals, both those quantifiable and those evidenced by the caliber of films and filmmakers that choose to plant roots here. While the program is safe for a while longer regardless of the governor, I feel comforted by the fact that we are backed by someone with the same goals and vision for our city as those forward-thinking talents within our film community. Be sure to keep an eye out for more major productions like the recent Grassroots, All I Want is Christmas, The Details, and Eden, as well as the upcoming One Square Mile as they find home here in our anomalous city. Thanks to such competitive programs and competent representatives, I’d wager that they are just the beginning.