At the top of Olympia's upcoming 2022 legislative session, Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-3rd LD) says he will sponsor a bill to increase funding of the state's Motion Picture Competitiveness Program (MPCP) from $3.5 million to $20 million annually. In a press release, Washington Filmworks, the non-profit responsible for stewarding the MPCP, said the raise would make our state "significantly more competitive" in the region when it comes to film production.
"It's great for our communities," stated Riccelli, whose district covers Spokane, a city that productions like Syfy's Z Nation and the upcoming film Dreamin' Wild have used as shooting grounds. "We could point to economic activity in every legislative district in the state because of this incentive."
Washington's business and occupation tax funds the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program, which the state created in 2006 and renewed in 2017 through 2027. The main gist is that the program offers funding assistance to qualifying film and episodic series productions that spend a certain amount of money in-state. For films and series with fewer than six episodes, that threshold is at least $500,000 in-state. For episodic productions with six or more episodes, the production must spend at least $300,000 in-state. Adding more money to the pot allows more shows to apply for funding assistance, bringing more film activity and jobs to our state.
In a recent phone interview, Washington Filmworks executive director Amy Lillard told The Stranger that the increase in funding would be a boon to creatives in our state, allowing local actors, digital artists, photographers, costumers, and musicians to get hired. Lillard said MPCP "has 15 years of history and it shows that it can work—it's just underfunded."
It's an issue local filmmakers, like Megan Griffiths and the late Lynn Shelton, have continually requested for legislators in Olympia to step up and make happen. “It’s just been so frustrating for this community to see Portland take off — and, of course, Vancouver — while Seattle struggles,” East of the Mountains director SJ Chiro told the Seattle Times' Brendan Kiley in his excellent feature about the film incentive program this summer. “I just don’t think it should be that hard of a sell.”
While the $16.5 million jump seems steep, it would place us shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbor. Just this year, Oregon expanded its incentive cap from $14 million to $20 million, and Montana went from $10 million to $12 million.
"That big number—$20 million—would encourage people to invest in infrastructure," Lillard said of the bill. "We have two production centers in Washington state, [Seattle and Spokane,] but it would support investment in infrastructure. You would see all of those support businesses pop up as well to support that level of production. It could absolutely be a game-changer."
In addition to going toward financial reimbursements, the proposed funding increase would also go to Filmworks' diversity and inclusion programs for filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds. Last year, they launched the Media Mentorship Program, teaming up with Northwest Film Forum and the Spokane Film Project to invite eight fellows to get mentorship and on-the-ground training on film sets. The proposed bill would revise the MPCP's current language to allow Filmworks to allocate more money on programs like this one.
Even as lawmakers prepare to head into session in early January, the film incentive program funding might already be depleted. Filmworks opened its 2022 application cycle on December 1. When we spoke last week, Lillard said four projects have already applied to shoot in Washington state—enough to empty the $3.5 million coffer.
This 2022 legislative session will also mark the tenth time lawmakers have asked for the film production incentive cap to be raised. Riccelli acknowledged that Olympia will be sorting through lots of "competing priorities" during the truncated 60-day session, but felt confident about his ability to push the bill through. Lillard said she was "encouraged" by discussions she's had with lawmakers and state agencies. In fact, for the first time Gov. Inslee included funding in his 2022 supplemental budget to "attract the motion picture industry to benefit the state economy." It's a move Filmworks thinks could add momentum to their cause.
"If COVID taught us anything, it was so hard on creative workers. We were the first to close down the last to open," observed Lillard. "At the end of the day, how do creative people live in work in Seattle? How do we make that possible? So that's why we're back with the Legislature. We're saying, if you want to support the creative economy, film is the way to do that."
More locally, King County Executive Dow Constantine recently made headlines for opening a new film production facility on Harbor Island to help jumpstart the movie spirit in Seattle. Earlier this spring, Three Busy Debras became the first production to use the 117,000 square foot facility with its two soundstages, building 75 sets for its second season. There was a rumored issue with the isolation being unable to keep the sound of neighboring seagulls out. In July, a county rep told The Stranger that Harbor Island would take an “intermission” in order to “make some further improvements and do some general maintenance,” including sound mitigation. It has plans to reopen in January.
If you're interested in further supporting the cause, go ahead and sign the Keep Film in WA petition here.