It seems the talk these days in the film industry is all about tax incentives. And though we see the value in this government kick to encourage film production, Running Wild Films has always been about action (not talk) and many filmmakers could be spending their time making movies instead of talking about the lack of tax incentives in their state. Thus far we have made eight feature films without the aid of these incentives.
Here are five good reasons to not let the lack of tax incentives stop you from making a film:
If you make films locally (wherever you are based or have a strong support network), the monetary amount of your local resources can outweigh the lack of tax incentives.
For example, instead of making Durant’s Never Closes in a tax incentive state like New Mexico (as many people recommended) we decided to film the movie in our home state, Arizona. But we missed out on saving all that money, right? Wrong: we used local resources to save on our budget.
This includes Phoenix restaurants who supplied free food, local businesses who sponsored us with cash and much more, connections which made it possible for us to find affordable locations and build our set for half of what it should have cost, not to mention the vast cast and crew who donated time/energy and their own resources (whether it be skills or assets such as wardrobe) to the movie.
All of this was possible because we made Durant’s Never Closes in a city where we have a strong support base. Our executive producer Michael Doven (Minority Report, Eyes Wide Shut) admitted on set that our local resources are more valuable (especially on a low budget) than traveling to film in a tax incentive state.
2. It’s a Big Excuse
As we mentioned before, it seems that many people in the film industry are more concerned with discussions and rallies regarding tax incentives than they are with making films. Yes, it is important for some key people to lobby and fight for these benefits, however it is just as important to build a strong local film movement. And that can only be done with good films.
There will always be excuses to not go out and make films but tax incentives have become the biggest. But many production companies, ours among them, have proved it is not necessary to have these in order to make feature films and receive recognition.
Perhaps the same people pouring their time and energy into fighting for incentives and a film office should consider one idea: if we focused on turning great stories into films and promoting them together, we would have a sustainable film movement that the government could not ignore.
But as of now, we do not…
3. It Benefits the “Big Guy” More Than the “Little Guy”
From my perspective, tax incentives encourage big budget Hollywood films to come to a State, which of course can provide some opportunities for local actors and crew to take (usually small) paid positions on these productions. But how often are these productions casting lead roles and crew positions such as the Director of Photography from the “locals”?
Also, how much does it help the independent filmmaker get his or her movies made? Perhaps it could open the door for funding by making film projects more attractive to investors but our experience with investors suggests that this is not a major benefit (especially when working on a micro-budget level which is where most of us start).
When we made Porches and Private Eyes recently in Mississippi (a tax incentive state), we did not even qualify for these benefits because of our budget. Several Hollywood productions that shot within the last few years have but it requires a higher budget most filmmakers can’t reach to even get help from this system. What we saw in the film industry in Mississippi is very similar to what we have seen in Arizona: a small group of filmmakers and actors committed to making good movies. From what we can tell, the state laws don’t seem to effect them at this point.
Ask yourself how much these incentives will actually help you and your career if they go into effect.
4. It’s Not Always Good for the State
Wikipedia lists the pros and cons of tax credits and other forms of incentives. Cons? Yes, that’s right.
A lawyer friend of ours studied this for a dissertation paper and found receive suggesting that tax incentives are not necessarily good for every state. In some they work very well and in others they do not. This is something to be strongly considered by anyone who promotes these “benefits”.
Just because these laws help movies does not mean that it is a good idea. Please read all information, good and bad, before committing your time and effort to make something happened that might be bad for your state.
5. The Right-Minded Culture is What We Need
Finally, what we do need as filmmakers regardless of tax incentives, is a right-minded culture.
As mentioned before we made our latest film Porches and Private Eyes in a tax incentive state but did not benefit from these. However, this was our most positive experience making a film so far. Why? Because Mississippi, specifically Brookhaven (the town we filmed in) has the right-minded culture.
Now what do I mean by that? This is my definition of a culture ripe for filmmaking: actors who are passionate to act, crews who want to be involved in whatever they can, and a community that surrounds them which is excited and supportive of its filmmakers.
You will not find this everywhere and I assure you it is more powerful and beneficial than any tax law. What will effect the film industry in this state (Arizona) and many others like it more than incentives is a change of attitude, a redirection of perspective, and a true excitement for making local films.
We should focus more on developing a culture that supports filmmakers in our state.