Extend tax breaks for film productions in state

With the Oscars airing today — 4 p.m. on ABC, 2 p.m. if you’re into the red carpet stuff — let’s take a moment to consider Washington state’s film industry. And zooming in for a close-up, let’s consider Snohomish County’s supporting role.

Among the recent feature-length movies that have done at least part of their filming in the county are “7 Minutes,” starring Jason Ritter; “Captain Fantastic,” with Vigo Mortensen; “The Architect,” starring Parker Posey; and “Laggies” with Keira Knightly and Sam Rockwell.

Those four films brought actors, camera operators, directors, support crew and others who ate meals catered by local restaurants, bought lumber at hardware stores, spent nights at hotels, maybe enjoyed a Silvertips game and more. The additional business is temporary, a few days, maybe a few weeks, but ask a small businesses owner if they’re happy to get that and would like to see more of it.

That might be possible with a bill now in the Legislature that would increase the pool of tax incentives the state can provide to the film industry, including feature films, TV shows and commercials, Internet productions, still photography and more.

“We like to say, if you’re holding a camera in your hand, we can help,” said Amy Lillard, executive director of Washington Filmworks, a nonprofit that took over the duties of the state film office in 2007. The agency helps with filming logistics, scouting locations, getting permits and connecting productions with resources and businesses.

But one of the things Filmworks does is currently limited. It now has authority to administer $3.5 million in tax incentives for such productions. Last year, that funding ran out by May.

“I won’t be surprised if we reach that more quickly this year; we’ve already got six applications that would shoot right now that would qualify for $11.6 million,” Lillard said.

Senate Bill 6027 would increase the pool of tax breaks to $7 million by 2017, and then, incrementally to $10 million by 2019. It’s well within line of other states’ similar incentives. Oregon provides up to $10 million, and of the 39 states that provide the tax breaks, Washington currently provides the fifth lowest amount, Lillard said.

Such tax breaks do represent a taxpayer-funded subsidy, but Lillard says Filmworks is meticulous about tracking and reporting to the Legislature how much and on what these productions spend in the state, down to the last half-eaten doughnut on the craft services table.

And the investment offers a significant return. Since Filmworks took over the state film office duties in 2007, the program has generated $96.3 million in direct spending in the state, $44 million of that in jobs. Indirect spending adds another 2.75 times that amount to local economies.

The marketplace for film productions is competitive, and most producers have worked the tax incentives into their business plans, which makes it difficult for a state to land a production if it can’t offer the tax breaks.

There is growing interest in bringing productions to Washington state and Snohomish County, Lillard said. Everett in particular has built a reputation as a city that works hard to accommodate movies and other productions, she said.

There are exciting projects ahead. Lillard is hopeful that a continuation of the TV series “Twin Peaks” will return to the state to film.

The state should help make that happen. That’s a lot of slices of cherry pie and “damn fine” cups of coffee that can be sold.

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