Sen. Colby Coash — who costars in the road trip comedy “Trunk’d” filmed last year in Nebraska — is pushing a bill that would give incentives to producers to film their movies in Nebraska.
Under the Nebraska Film Advantage Act, LB99, production companies that film in Nebraska could apply for grants from the state if they spend more than $500,000 in the state, have at least 10 Nebraska employees, provide matching funds equal to the grant. Each company would be eligible for up to $1 million in grants, but no more than $500,000 per project.
Money for the grants would come from the Local Civic, Cultural and Convention Center Financing Fund — which was created to help build and expand convention centers and arenas, including Qwest Center Omaha and Lincoln’s planned arena.
This seems like a harmless idea on its face — who wouldn’t want Johnny Depp to film his next movie in Nebraska? But states have been lining up to offer film incentives for a decade now, and some are beginning to question whether they’re worth the money being shelled out.
Canada started this craze when it began offering big carrots to get producers to film there in the late 1990s. U.S. states quickly followed their lead, and now, most states offer these incentives.
I was a reporter up north when North Dakota got into the game early. After all, they couldn’t allow the movie “Fargo” to be Hollywood’s only version of North Dakota.
Dakotans were thrilled when a movie called “Wooly Boys” was filmed in the Badlands, starring Peter Fonda and Kris Kristofferson. It was about an old sheep rancher who deprogrammed his big-city grandson.
North Dakota was believed to be the first state to finance a major feature film when it loaned the production company $3.9 million in 1999. And while lots of North Dakotans went out to see the movie when it showed in theaters there, it fizzled elsewhere. According to imdb.com (Internet Movie Database), “Wooly Boys” grossed just $335,000 in the United States.
Money well spent? Not only did the state spend nearly $4 million financing a film that went nowhere, but I thought the film portrayed North Dakota as backwards sheep-herding country. Not exactly the image they were going for. But everyone pretended like it was a huge success anyway.
The New York Times wrote about how ga-ga states have gotten in their zeal to get on the big screen and questioned whether it’s wise to invest tax dollars in such a short-lived, albeit glamorous, venture that doesn’t create permanent jobs.
Louisiana is the poster child for overdoing it, financing a whopping $27 million of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” And Rhode Island moved to strengthen its incentives law after putting up $2.65 million of a $11 million budget for what turned out to be a straight-to-DVD movie.
The Times story is a must-read for any state lawmaker considering this bill.