Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It's Time To Give The Film Commission The Incentives It Needs

Last week, the Tennessee Film Commission held a hearing in Memphis that focused on the need for tax incentives for film companies in our state. Chief among the witnesses was Linn Sitler, executive director of the Memphis and Shelby County Film Commission, who competes against states every day that offer incentives in the form of waived state taxes. Even California, the birthplace of the industry itself, is now considering legislation for incentives.

In light of these developments, it seems timely to reprise a blog from August:

At a time when Memphis and Shelby County Governments are waiving more than $60 million in taxes every year to recruit new businesses, the Memphis and Shelby County Film Commission -- which has the greatest return on investment of any economic development agency in this city -- continues to beg for peanuts.

Increasingly, executive director Linn Sitler and her staff are competing with rival locations like Louisiana which are offering significant financial incentives. Louisiana has followed a trend across the U.S. and has passed legislation offering special financial benefits for film productions. The local film commission has made national impact recruiting a series of films and television programs to Memphis, but even the staff's considerable charm, good will and national reputation for getting the job done cannot carry the day with producers looking to squeeze every dime out of their production budgets.

Considering that Memphis and Shelby County manage to waive more than $1 million a week to get anything from a warehouse paying its employees less than average incomes to 94 high-paid executives from International Paper, it’s time for the city fathers to pause long enough to set aside something to support our film business.

In the past legislative session, Ms. Sitler and staff member Brett Smith lobbied state legislators for tax breaks to get Tennessee on a level playing field with its rivals, but they came up short. Hopefully, next year legislators will see the light (no pun intended). Film production is exactly the kind of economic shot in the arm Memphis and Tennessee should be chasing. It doesn’t require any increase in public services, and it leaves millions of dollars in the local economy.

Ms. Sitler, who has developed a national reputation in her field, says the incentives are needed. And, if that’s not enough justification, so does local director Craig Brewer, basking in the glow of national praise for “Hustle and Flow” and who is paying a $800,000 premium to film his next movie in Memphis. That’s the amount of financial incentive offered to him by a competing state and which he rejected to stay in his hometown.

Our two best experts tell us the incentives are needed. It’s time for all of us to listen. Lord knows, we've gotten more economic activity from the film commission than many of the other trendy economic strategies that have come and gone, accomplishing little except a batch of plans for the shelves.

And if you're skeptical of the value of the film commission, just consider the lsit of movies since 1990:

1990 "Silence of the Lambs" Orion)
1991 "Trespass" Feature (Universal Pictures)
1991 "Taking Back My Life:The Story of Nancy Ziegenmeyer" (CBS-TV)
1992-93 "The Firm" (Paramount Pictures)
1993 "The Client" (Warner Brothers)
1994 "Without Air" (Winghead Films/Independent)
1994 "Separated by Murder" TV Movie (CBS-TV)
1995 "A Family Thing" (MGM-United Artists)
1995 "The Delta" Charlie Guidance Prods./Independent)
1996 "The People Vs. Larry Flynt" (Columbia Pictures/Code Pink)
1997 "The Rainmaker" (Paramount Pictures)
1997 "The Road to Graceland" (Largo Entertainment/Independent)
1997 "Why I Live at the P.O." Film Short (Eudora Prods.)
1998 "Breakfast with Arty" (Metamorphosis Prods.)
1998 "Cookie's Fortune" Sandcastle 5 Prods./Independent) *Based in Holly Springs, MS
1998 "Woman's Story" (Muddy River Productions/Independent)
1999 "The Big Muddy" (Fine Grind Films/Independent)
1999 "Intersections" (Workingman Productions/Independent)
1999 "The Poor and Hungry" (BR2 Productions/Independent)
1999 "Breakin' It Down" (Red Ceiling Pictures/Independent)
1999 "Cabbin' It" (Cinehaus, Inc./Independent)
1999 "Central Garden" (Fine Grind Films)
2000 "Cast Away" (Dreamworks)
2000 "Death Row" (Teamworx Productions)
2001 "Going to California" (San Vincente Productions/ShowTime)
2001 "The Angel Doll" (Angel Doll Productions)
2001 "Death Row " (Teamworx Productions)
2001 "Cast Away" (Dreamworks)
2001 "American Saint" aka "Cabbin' It"(Cinehaus, Inc./Independent
2002 "A Painted House" (McGee Street Productions, Inc./Hallmark Entertainment)
2002-2003 "21 Grams" (Focus Features)
2004 "40 Shades of Blue" (Forty Shades of Blue, LLC/Independent)
2004 "Streaker" (Creative Forces/Independent)
2004 "Walk the Line" (Fox 2000)
2004 "Hustle & Flow" (New Deal Entertainment/Homegrown Films/Independent))
2004 "Send In The Clown" (Sharp Entertainment/Independent)

To underscore the importance of supporting the work of the film commission, an article in yesterday's New York Times makes the case for us.

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