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Letters to the Editor

Keep the film rebate

J. Alan Davidson April 4th, 2012

The Outsiders, Twister, Rumble Fish, The Grapes of Wrath ... You’ve probably heard of these films, and know that they were shot, at least in part, in Oklahoma.

What you probably don’t know is that the film industry in Oklahoma is growing at a rapid pace, bringing jobs and money to our state, largely thanks to a $5 million tax rebate program our state has. That rebate program has recently come under attack with the introduction of Senate Bill 1623, which aims to do away with most tax incentives that Oklahoma offers.

According to Chris Freihofer (member of the Casting Society of America, owner and operator of Freihofer Casting in Norman), he cast seven feature films out of his office in 2011 alone. Freihofer supplied dozens of principal roles and thousands of paid extras. The Motion Picture Association of America reports that Oklahoma film generated $168.5 million in wages over the course of 2009-10, and a 2010 economic study by Oklahoma City University reported that the state’s film industry generated $11.8 million for 157 full-time positions. The MPAA also reports that 4,699 people were employed by films in Oklahoma.

Should Oklahoma film incentives be cut, it is estimated that the state will lose most of its film industry. According to the Oklahoma Film & Music Commission, the state lost out on six films, including the Warner Bros. production, Thunderstruck, due to the incentive cap having been already met. Many more films will pass us by if the rebates are cut entirely.

A quick look at the upcoming films in Oklahoma brings excitement to members of the industry in Oklahoma. The film adaptation of August: Osage County is set to begin scouting for locations in Oklahoma soon. A film about Oklahoma native and World War II paratrooper Jake McNiece is currently in pre-production, with the producers rumored to be scouting Oklahoma locations. The producers of Just Crazy Enough are in talks to produce another movie in Oklahoma in 2012, and many low-budget independent films are set to begin production in the coming year. If the tax incentive program is repealed, Oklahoma will lose out on these productions, as well as many national and regional commercials.

The MPAA reports that Louisiana, which has no incentive cap, generated $308.7 million in wages and 7,632 jobs over the course of 2009-10. North Carolina, sporting a $20 million per feature cap, reported 9,280 jobs and $200.5 million in wages. Texas reported $1.5 billion in wages and 41,269 jobs in the same period. In stark contrast to these three states, Arizona — which generated $329 million over 2009-2010 — has reported a sharp drop in its revenue from film since cutting its incentive program in 2010. Though exact numbers are still lacking, some estimates put the decline at more than $100 million in lost wages.

If SB 1623 passes, the 157 (and growing) permanent jobs in film production will shrink dramatically, and the $168 million will all but disappear. Despite Oklahoma film growing steadily, our lawmakers are poised to throw away $168 million industry to save $5 million. No matter how the math is done, this doesn’t add up.

—J. Alan Davidson, Tulsa

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

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