The timing of a House Committee vote to set up an incentive program that would offer filmmakers a 20 percent rebate on production costs couldn’t come at a better time for those seeking to build a film industry in the state.
The weak dollar coming on the tail of the writers strike has decimated the Canadian film industry. British Columbia, our neighbor to the north, has a $1.3 billion film industry that directly and indirectly employs 30,000 Canadians. The bankers who now make most of the major decisions about films and television series now look first to the bottom line and suddenly the United States is looking better again.
Idaho has the scenery and the great locations that can make us competitive with British Columbia and Alberta. I learned first hand in 2006 how these decisions are made.
I was co-producer of the movie, “Firestorm: Last Stand in Yellowstone,” which was inspired by my book “Scorched Earth, How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America.”
The producers were actually considering shooting the movie in New Zealand. Their other choices were British Columbia and Alberta.
“How about Idaho?” I asked.”
There was no way it would pencil out, I was told. But that was when the dollars was worth 40 cents more than the “loonie,” what Canadians call their dollar. Today the loonie is worth about 40 cents more than our dollar, a reversal.
We ended up in British Columbia in part because of incentives that reduced our costs if we shot in at least three locations outside of Vancouver. Those incentives spread the benefits of the industry into the rural communities like Squamish, also the site of the popular ABC series “Men in Trees.”
Shows like that and movies that need backdrops of mountains, river canyons, ranches, farmlands, small towns and even small cities could come here instead. But the moviemakers make it clear Idaho will have to offer the same kind of incentives other states offer.
The saddest part of Ken Dey’s story in today’s Idaho Statesman is that filmmaker Heather Rae, one of the brightest lights of the budding Idaho film world said she is forced to leave for Los Angeles to find work. Rae’s film “Frozen River,” won a jury award at the Sundance Film Festival and the Idaho native is a producer in two films in production, “Foster Child” and Mustang.”
Idaho must keep creative people and attract and teach the dozens of scriptwriters, camera operators, production managers, gaffers (lighting specialists) grips (set builders), costume, make-up, design, props people, special effects experts, and others that make movies if it wants a homegrown film industry. Grant Allen is seeking to help create the critical mass with his proposed Bryans Run development near Kuna. It would include film production offices, prop workshops, a restaurant and commercial center with a New York street scene.
He’s seeking legislation that would allow counties to offer up to five years of property tax relief for projects like his that invest at least $3 million.
Just as the weak dollar has helped Idaho farmers, Micron and other exporting businesses, it offers a window for the state to get into the film business. But lawmakers will have to decide whether this industry deserves the tax incentives producers say they need.