Last week's Stranger included a piece by Charles Mudede about Washington State's film incentive and its relationship to a new television show that the two of us hope to shoot here in the future. We felt this article represented a missed opportunity to educate readers about how our state's Motion Picture Competitiveness Program works and why every Washington State resident—regardless of their affiliation with the film community—should support Senate Bill 6027, which seeks to expand the program.
Washington has the best-designed film incentive program in the country. Many other states are being bled dry by programs that hand money out to productions up front, no matter how that money gets spent. Not so in Washington! Our program pays back a production: (A) ONLY after it has spent money in our state and a very extensive audit is completed, and (B) ONLY for money spent by the production on local hires and local services. The program also requires that productions pay union-level wages and pensions and health benefits to all hires—no other state does this.
On our most recent films, Lynn's Laggies and Megan's Lucky Them (multimillion dollar projects we were able to lure away from other states only because of our incentive program), the productions did not get money back on the salaries of Keira Knightley, Toni Collette, or any other A-list talent, only on the wages of the cast and crew who were Washington residents! Perhaps this is why the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program is the only tax preference program endorsed by the Washington State Labor Council and why, in fact, they have called for it to be expanded: because it works!
Ours is a model program for creating jobs and economic activity. The ripple effect is huge. Since 2007, the fund has generated $96.3 million in economic activity in our state, a 375 percent return on investment! Truly, the only problem with our program is that its cap is too low. At $3.5 million, Washington has the fifth-lowest cap of the 38 states with such funds. Last year, the entire amount had been allocated by May. More than $20 million in potential spending, which would have been brought by the additional productions that applied for incentive funding, had to be turned away.
SB 6027, a bill currently on the floor of the Washington State Senate, would gradually expand our fund to $10 million by 2019. Would we all like for it to be a higher number? Definitely! But let's be clear: This bill seeks to nearly triple the existing fund. That is progress. For context: Oregon's $10 million cap supports three television series (Portlandia, Grimm, and The Librarians) in addition to feature films. Contrary to Mudede's assertion, it is a magnet for production.
Our incentive not only serves to attract larger projects that boost the state's economic infrastructure and provide real, living-wage jobs for Washington residents, up to 10 percent ($350,000) of the fund is also reserved for local filmmakers. This allotment is designed to incubate local filmmaking talent so it can evolve to create projects that will provide ongoing, sustainable work for the multitudes of crew and cast. (This is the exact process that led to Laggies and Lucky Them and, we hope, many future projects.)
As for our TV project, if it gets out of the development stage, and if SB 6027 passes, shooting in Washington is still a very real possibility. It's certainly what we are both aiming for, and it's just one more reason that we're so gung ho about getting this bill passed. Bringing a TV series to the west side of the state (to complement Z Nation, the series already being shot in Spokane) would mean steady, well-paid work for our local cast and crew for much of the year, not to mention the ripple effect on other businesses that are ancillary beneficiaries to a booming creative economy (potential tourism among them—people still buy Sleepless in Seattle T-shirts at the airport!).
It's not a lost cause, people! Not by a long shot!! PLEASE spread the word! Support our incentive fund! Write your legislators and senators in support of SB 6027 and use the #keepfilminwa hashtag.
There really is no downside.