Keeping an industry from fading to black 

With 46 states currently offering incentives, productions will have no shortage of other options to serve as Oklahoma’s photo double. It’s all about the bottom line.

The film rebate is what the name implies: a rebate to productions on taxable transactions in the state, capped at $5 million annually. Included are items such as labor, rentals, meals, lodging, construction and vehicles. The return in direct dollars for the six films that qualified for the rebate in 2011 is more than $15 million, or a three-to-one return. In most cases, the anticipated rebate figures into a production’s budget planning, translating to those dollars buying even more goods and services in Oklahoma. As such, it benefits the economy more than it costs taxpayers.

The film rebate is a jobs creator.

Incoming companies are hiring an increasing number of Oklahomans for key positions. These are full-time equivalent portable jobs spread across the state, not unlike those for the construction and the oil and gas industries.

right Jill Simpson

A recent example is the three days of filming in Oklahoma City in January for Thunderstruck, a film about Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Warner Bros. employed local crew in all but three of its 25 departments: an estimated 44 local crew, 500 extras and three local cast members.

It’s worth mentioning that Oklahoma lost the rest of filming to Baton Rouge, La. That’s right; a film about the Thunder was shot in Louisiana. Due to the program’s popularity, Oklahoma’s rebate was depleted when the producers came calling, so Louisiana was more than happy to oblige.

For those who contend that the film industry is not creating permanent jobs, consider this: Industry-support service companies are springing up around the state, riding the wave of increased production. They offer services ranging from production and digital effects to transportation and construction, translating to new tax streams and wealth in Oklahoma. This growing roster of companies cannot exist without the rebate.

In the last two years, the Oklahoma Film & Music Office pre-qualified productions up to the program’s cap. Impact numbers for films qualifying for the rebate in 2011 are up 400 percent over the total impact for all projects in 2005. Productions are infusing cash into many strapped local economies, putting new dollars directly into the hands of locals.

Since January, Oklahoma has had to turn away more than 12 feature films due to a depleted rebate fund coupled with the program’s uncertain future. Ironically, industry growth comes at the same time that the state Legislature is considering two bills to eliminate the program.

This is downright perplexing when you consider that the film rebate provides full transparency, has a built-in audit process at the expense of film productions participating in the program, and that there is no evidence of abuse. For such a comparatively small cost, and with such big returns, my only question is, “Why?”

Simpson is director of the Oklahoma Film & Music Office.

Photo by Mark Hancock

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