Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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U.S. states where movies are made

February 24, 2014

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The motion picture and television industry is responsible for 2,079 direct jobs and $45.8 million in wages in Idaho.

The annual hype over the Academy Awards puts the spotlight on Los Angeles – but in reality a lot of 21st-century contenders have been shot in locales ranging from Vancouver to Memphis to Detroit.

Why not springboard off the Hollywood hoopla and dive into the film production scene in your market?  From state-of-the-industry reports to indie crowdfunding ventures for investors to careers for would be stars and artists, there’s a topic in there somewhere for just about everyone in your audience.

STATE-BY-STATE INCENTIVES

As we know, film incentives have ebbed and flowed in states in recent years; they remain controversial for their efficacy and image problems (spawning editorials like “your tax dollars paying to make movies” and so on.  If you haven’t done so lately, take a look at the current tax credits and other boosts your state offers to filmmakers.  Here’s the National Conference of State Legislatures’ state-by-state chart of film incentives and programs; it’s somewhat out of date so if you’re going to compare your market to nearby states, check with them for updates.

The Motion Picture Association of America offers a similar grid; it also includes a summary of major productions (but again, is a bit stale.)  Your state film commission likely will be able to update the information and also provide its own economic justification for incentives.  In contrast, here’s an article from The Economist questioning the point of the credits, which generally have a net cost to states.  But do talk also with marketing experts, image consultants and the like; maybe there’s more to it than math.  I know firsthand the morale boost and buzz that rippled through Detroit when big stars like Clint Eastwood, George Clooney and Richard Gere were shooting scenes in downtown streets and buildings; I have a feeling there might be intangible and longer-term benefits for a city of being taken seriously as a business venue.

Here’s a lengthy brief on the topic of film incentives by Createquity, an arts blog I just found; I’m not necessarily vouching for the blogger but his analysis is detailed and will help you understand some of the issues and metrics involved in offering corporate tax breaks.  And this New York Times piece, “How does the film industry actually make money?” is good background too.

COSTLY BUSINESS

Tax credits or not, moviemaking is an expensive proposition, and in recent years crowdfunding has become a bit more mainstream; you might write a story aimed at ordinary folks who want to invest in a feature film this way – what are the pros and cons?  (I watched a fun flick last year, Scream Park, a surprisingly slick take on the 1980s slasher flick, set in a real amusement park, that was funded by small investors through a Kickstarter campaign.)

A professional organization, the Crowd Fund Film Society, exists now to support movie crowdfunding efforts, perhaps it or many similar websites can direct you to productions or would-be productions in your area; enterprising authors even are writing how-to books on movie crowdfunding.  Why not outline some of the movie crowdfunding deals being offered at large or in your market – what’s in it for investors, what are the caveats, etc. – I imagine it’s more akin to buying a lottery ticket than a mutual fund share.

INVESTMENT SCAMS

On that note, you also need a sidebar or box on how to beware of movie investing scams; CBS News has been reporting on a telemarketing “boiler room” fraud that nabbed millions of dollars by offering shares in fake movies.

And of course, there are story ideas aimed at people who want to break into the film business, even if they’re just “third groupie from the right” as a per-diem extra.   Your state’s film commission will have information about jobs; check also with unions about the markets in your area.  The Screen Actors Guild, the Motion Picture Editors Guild and related should be able to point you to local representatives or members; jobs board like Backstage and FilmAndTVPro offer leads for positions ranging from makeup artist to set medic.  How can consumers and would-be industry insiders tell a legit job posting from a scam?  Investigate the want ads; what are the terms, wages, perks and qualifications?

MovieMaking.com offers a list of top big cities and small towns to live in if you yearn for the film industry, some might surprise you.

And I love this blog post, “Who knew?” posted on Teamster Nation – who knew indeed that film industry activity could be a boon for the rugged Brotherhood of Teamsters union.  So don’t overlook guilds and unions that don’t necessarily spring to mind when you think of the entertainment industry.

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