Producer Says State Film Incentives “Need to Stop”

Producer Says State Film Incentives “Need to Stop”

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Gavin Polone, a major Hollywood producer, is calling for an end to state film incentive programs.  His reasons for doing so will seem familiar to Film Works supporters, because we’ve made some of the same points on several occasions on our blog (see herehereand here for some examples).  And while the argument Polone makes is virtually identical to ours, there is a critical difference because of where the message is coming from.

When Film Works argues against film incentive programs in other states, we do so on behalf of the tens of thousands of Californians harmed by runaway production.  As a result, even if the arguments we make are correct, some critics will choose to ignore or discredit them as biased.  But when a Hollywood producer who stands to benefit from incentive programs takes issue with them, well, that’s reason for everyone to stand up and take notice.

For Mr. Polone, whose producing credits include Zombieland and Curb Your Enthusiasm , the call for an end to state film incentives has undeniable credibility.  Palone has benefited greatly (well into the millions) from film incentive programs.  You have to respect someone willing to argue for the greater good against his or her own self interest.

In his article, Polone talked about the millions he has reaped from film incentive programs, while saying that “as a taxpayer” he opposes them because “they are bad economics”:

This week I am to have a meeting with a studio about a plan for producing a movie I have in development. When we start the discussions about where to shoot, the first thing discussed won’t be which location has the perfect look or the right caliber of local crew; rather, it will be about which state or province will pay us the most to bring our production to their territory. When I produced Zombieland, there was never a discussion of shooting the movie in California, where most of the action takes place and where one finds the best moviemaking infrastructure and crews. California had no state incentive at that time, so instead we shot the movie in Georgia and received about $4.5 million in tax credits. And as someone who has worked on and benefited from productions that have received funding from the Federal Government of Canada, the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba, the states of Georgia, Louisiana, New York, and California, as well as New York City, I still believe that these subsidies, both in the U.S. and abroad, need to stop. They’re bad economics, they don’t make a film better (at times I think they actually make them worse, since trying to make one location look like another is never as impressive as just going to the place the movie is set), and they’re a misuse of public funds, especially during this seemingly unending recession.

Polone suggests its foolish for states to invest so much money in an industry that “is highly mobile and can quickly jump to any other state that bribes them to do so.”  Instead, he implies that states’ efforts at economic development should help shore up their existing industries that are struggling to stay competitive in the new economy (which sounds like familiar territory Californian film boosters like us):

Because unlike infrastructure-heavy businesses that set up in large entrenched plants with heavy machinery, the film business is highly mobile and can quickly jump to any other state that bribes them to do so. I had two films planning to shoot in Michigan, and after they cut the subsidy, we abruptly changed the plan: One film moved to California, the other to Romania. Why Michigan didn’t pour their money into the rebounding auto industry or the preeminent aerospace/defense business that continues to grow despite the recession is beyond my comprehension. How many dormant manufacturing plants and unemployed factory workers are there in that state?

Here in California, of course, we’re playing a different incentives game.  Polone echoes the very same argument we’ve made about  California’s incentive being “purely defensive” and a “matter of survival.”  In fact, we agree with Palone when her argues that California can’t afford to do away with it’s incentive program “until all the other states do away with theirs.”

California is probably the only state that truly benefits from an incentive program… The modern entertainment business was founded here and, all things being equal, most producers and directors would prefer to stay here. But things aren’t equal, and California’s film and television industry was being destroyed by all of the other states luring projects away through government funding. Only by initiating a program in 2009 that shells out $200 million per year in subsidies has the runaway production drain been stemmed.

As for the international competition from other nations (specifically Canada) offering their own film incentives to US-based productions, Polone suggests pursuing dispute resolution under international trade agreements.  According to Polone, the “time couldn’t be more ripe” for such a trade action” because of the current move “to limit other kinds of welfare for business, such as the egregious subsidies given to agribusiness and the oil industry”:

And then there’s Canada, which provides one of the biggest draws for American production. The U.S. Trade Office should file an action against the country, just as they did against the European nations that subsidize Airbus for creating a disadvantage for our airline industry. Really, the circumstances aren’t much different.

Finally, Polone acknowledges that he and many of his colleagues are part of “the one percent” and says “we certainly don’t need to be subsidizing large corporations and rich individuals like myself just to create or maintain relatively few jobs” in locations that aren’t economically viable.  We at Film Works applaud Polone for having to courage to speak out against film incentives as bad policy, and we’d love to see more producers follow suit.

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