Zombie lobby descends on Olympia

OLYMPIA — Supporters of Washington state’s film and television industry staged a mock zombie apocalypse at the Capitol on Tuesday as part of their lobbying efforts on a measure to expand a tax-incentive program designed to lure more projects to the state.

More than 200 people, including actors, crew and support staff, staged a daylong shoot for a promo they planned to release later in support of Senate Bill 6027, which would increase the amount of money available every year under Washington’s tax incentive program for the industry. Action scenes were filmed both on the Capitol steps and at a camper set location nearby. Dozens of actors dressed as zombies were part of action scenes where the script included monologues or conversations about the bill.

One such scene involved actor Russell Hodgkinson, who plays the character of “Doc” on the SyFy’s network’s “Z Nation,” which is filmed in Spokane. After fighting with a zombie, who is then shot by another actor, Hodgkinson says to the camera: “Avoid the apocalypse. Support Senate Bill 6027. Put these Zs to work!”

Washington is one of 39 states that have a film tax-credit program in law. But programs in a few of those states, including Connecticut and Idaho, have either been suspended or are not currently funded, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many states have a higher cap than Washington, including California, which last year, tripled its tax credit to $330 million a year.

The current program in Washington state, which expires mid-2017, has an annual cap of $3.5 million. The Senate measure would extend the program through Dec. 31, 2022, and it would incrementally increase the cap each year, topping out at $10 million starting in 2019, matching the current incentive in nearby Oregon.

Amy Lillard, executive director at incentives-managing group Washington Filmworks, said that last year, Washington’s cap was reached by May, and it has already been hit this year.

Lillard said that she knows lawmakers have a lot of tough decisions to make while writing the next two-year state budget, but she said that what the state can’t afford is to lose the millions in direct and indirect spending that occurs when a big production in is town.

Numbers provided by Lillard showed that in Washington state last year, one feature film, 7 commercials and 13 episodes of Z Nation were filmed in the state last year that led to more than $11 million worth of direct spending in the state. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 101 projects — mostly commercials — led to more than $232 million in indirect economic impact in the state, according to Washington Filmworks.

In order to qualify, motion pictures must spend at least $500,000 in the state, episodic series must spend $300,000 per episode and commercials must spend $150,000.

“The fundamental difference between us and many other tax incentives is that no benefit happens until after they have invested in the economy and created the jobs,” Lillard said.

Republican Sen. Andy Hill, the chairman of the Ways &Means committee and the Senate’s main budget writer, said he hadn’t yet made up his mind on where he stood on the exemption, but he said he would give the measure a public hearing in his committee.

“I’m always looking for ways we can create jobs, especially grabbing them from other states, because it’s heavy competition out there,” Hill said.

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