Proposed budget cuts for Oklahoma could gut state's film industry
Just when the state's growing film industry is finding its legs in attracting feature filmmakers to Oklahoma, proposed cuts to the state budget include slashing incentive rebates on which the industry nationwide is built.
Jon Shryock, 51, of Oklahoma City dreamed of working in the film industry ever since he as a boy visited the set of Ho-Ho the Clown.
A former engineer, he incorporated a film lighting equipment firm a
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Many states give incentives
Forty-six states offer incentives to filmmakers. Since July 1, 2009, Oklahoma has offered qualifying production companies rebates of up to 37 percent on state expenditures, with an annual cap of $5 million. The film industry has grown by 350 percent since the state introduced rebates seven years ago. For fiscal year 2012, the rebates attracted six feature films, including “Cherokee Word for Water,” “Yellow,” “Just Crazy Enough,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Home Run” and “So This is Christmas.” According to analysis by Oklahoma City University's Meinders School of Business, the rebate-sparked filming — from July 2011 through June alone — will create 513 jobs and carry an economic impact, including film-related tourism, of $38.12 million. That figure doesn't include commercials, industrials, reality shows and other productions that aren't using the incentives.
A 2008 film graduate of New York University,
Shryock and Lee are among hundreds of Oklahomans who are worried about the future of the growing film industry in the state and, consequently, their careers here.
As part of $250 million in proposed budget cuts statewide, state legislators soon may yell “cut” to a $5 million annual incentive program that offers qualified filmmakers up to 35 percent rebates on state expenditures — 37 percent if productions include songs by Oklahoma artists. Senate Bill 1435 would repeal the rebates immediately upon passage, while SB 1623 would phase them out over two years.
Proponents — including Senate Finance Committee Chair Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa — believe the cuts are necessary to help lower personal income taxes, while Shryock, Lee and other industry observers say lawmakers need to look at the big picture.
For fiscal year 2012 alone, the rebates are
Much like a small business, the program is in its infancy and needs time to grow, said Shryock, who last year worked on feature films whose producers were lured here by the rebate. Those include “Yellow,” a film shot in Shawnee and surrounding towns about a chemically-dependent woman who returns to her Oklahoma hometown and stars Ray Liotta, and “Cherokee Word for Water,” a Tahlequah-shot film about
“We're manufacturing a widget that can expand to a global market and come back to Oklahoma,” he said. “I consider that a tremendous investment.”
Lee said she was “pleasantly surprised” to find creative local work, which includes the film “A Christmas Snow,” whose Tulsan producer Tracy Trost has qualified for rebates.
“Before they even scout locations, producers look for what incentives states offer,” said Lee, who's said she's seen the growth momentum from films drawn by incentives. Forty-six states have them, with
Among other things, the rebates, Trost said, have helped him attract and afford bigger-named talent, such as Lou Gossett Jr. (the sergeant in “Officer and a Gentleman”), who stars in his 2011 film “The Lamp.”
The threats to the film rebate program couldn't come at a worse time, said Jill Simpson, state film and music office director. The state qualified six feature films for fiscal year 2012, she said, and one film alone prequalified for all of the 2013 rebate money.
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