Cutting room

The program is capped at $5 million. Rather than keep it in place, or even raise the amount to lure more filmmakers, the Oklahoma Legislature likely is letting the program sunset on July 1, 2014.

Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Film & Music Office, says for Oklahoma not to continue with this program would be “disastrous” for the state, reaching far beyond losing the glitz and glamour of having movies made here.

“Our rebate program is small compared to other states,” Simpson says. “We really focus on independent and Oklahoma films with the program. So, if you take away the incentive, companies will go to the states where they can get the incentive. It’s that simple. Most production
companies have a person assigned to crunch the numbers for different
state scenarios based on the incentives, and they go to where they can
get the best deal, regardless of the content.”

In
2005, when the program started, Oklahoma was doing $6.5 in direct
dollars with an $11 million impact, the multiplier effect of it
trickling through the economy. This past year, however, the state did
$30 million in direct dollars with a $66 million impact. Simpson says
that, through her findings, for every dollar the state is paying out in
the rebate program, $3 in direct spending are being spent in Oklahoma,
and that’s without the impact multiplier.

“Film
is a great industry for Oklahoma because a small town has just as great
a chance of getting a movie made in their area as a big city does. Just
talk to the chamber-head of Pawhuska. They’ve had two high-profile
films shot there in the last three years, and Pawhuska’s tiny,” Simpson
says. “I think there’s a misperception that we are incentivizing rich
Hollywood people, and that’s really not the case.”

She
says the money goes into the making of the film, which allows
filmmakers to buy more things in Oklahoma and hire more local people.

“So really what we’re incentivizing are growing jobs and industry in the state at a time when we really need to be doing that,” she says.

Senate
Bill 330 in the last legislative session would have reduced the rebate
from 35% to 25%, and raised the cap from $5 million to $10 million. It
also would have extended the rebate, rather than having it sunset next
July. State legislators said the state could not afford to continue the
program while they were unable to fund things like pay raises for state
troopers.

Simpson
suggests that citizens contact their lawmakers, especially in light of
the upcoming award season that will surely bring even more traffic to
Oklahoma from filmmakers.

“We’re
really going to work hard on the education process this coming session,
letting people know just how important this issue is,” Simpson says.
“It’s our last chance to get this done, and the irony is that the same
time we’re under threat of having the program taken away, our biggest
success, August: Osage County, is about to hit the theaters December 25 and is likely to have Oscar nominations.”

It’s
even more puzzling to filmmaker Brent Ryan Green, who is in the
preproduction process of his latest film, a post-apocalyptic thriller
called The Veil. He is the last recipient of the rebate, without
which he would not have made a decision to film here. And if the rebate
program ends, chances are he never will again.

“I
know of a lot of people who have already moved out of Oklahoma because
of this,” Green says. “Without the incentive program, I think it’s
really going to be devastational. I know filmmakers who won’t shoot
here. I won’t shoot here without the rebate program. Not because I don’t
want to. But it takes a lot of money, and the rebate program goes a
long way.”

Green says
that, just from his own filmmaking experience, the amount of local
resources used, from lawyers and travel agents to hair stylists and
makeup artists, as well as the hotels and restaurants used by the cast
and crew, even the smallest films still impact the community — and in
this economy, every little bit helps.

“Oklahoma
has such beautiful landscapes, such a diversity of terrain, the people
are great… We know all those talking points,” Simpson adds. “But if you
stack that against financial incentives, which really are, these days,
the name of the game, it’ll be really hard to compete.”

She says she’ll still go to trade shows, and market Oklahoma, but will be surrounded by 46 other states with incentives.

“If
you think that people are going to be flocking to my booth, they won’t
be,” she says. “Oklahoma will become a really tough sell.”

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