In Defense of Tax Credits for a Sustainable Film Industry

I had some considerable backlash in the comments on my last blog post about the tax credits and HB 829. I would like to respond to some of these comments.

(To all you readers who are tired of hearing about the tax credits, I’m sorry this will be my last mention of them for a while.)

Why I Might Be Wrong

Though I claim to be a voice of encouragement for the local film industry, many folks I talk to who actually work in the film industry would consider my support of HB 829 to be a betrayal of local filmmakers.

“We lose work every time we even talk about cutting funding,” someone commented on my last post.

HB 829 will cap the amount of money the state gives out in film tax credits at $200 million. Though HB 829 will provide more funding for locally made films, most of the well-paying union jobs in the state come from major Hollywood productions.

“Hollywood is not the enemy,” someone else commented on last week’s post. “Four films this year ate up $200 million alone. That’s four films gone.”

That’s a great point, and I realize the disruption this bill will cause in the local film economy.

I must admit—I am not a professional filmmaker. I don’t make a living working on film sets or renting equipment, like the people who left the comments I’ve mentioned. I am an aspiring filmmaker. The films that I plan on making in the next five years will not generate millions of dollars in jobs, like Hollywood films do.

“The whole idea is to bring money into the state.” Another person commented on last week’s post. “A bunch of broke nobodies making movies that only their mom will enjoy (local filmmakers) isn’t going to do a thing for the economy.”

Yes, I am a broke nobody . . . you got me there. Hollywood has the money. We need Hollywood to provide the economic basis to employ working filmmakers.

But disruption is not necessarily bad. Maybe the pain it causes will be growing pains. And maybe, just maybe (with the help of HB 829) my filmmaker friends and I will run a movie studio in ten years that will be cranking out multi-million dollar films and employing hundreds of our neighbors.

Why I'm Right: Two Arguments for Sustainability

The stated purpose of the tax credits is to create a “self-supporting” film industry in Louisiana. If our local film industry is forever dependent on tax credits, how will it ever become “self-supporting”?

I want to be a working filmmaker in Louisiana for the rest of my life, and thus I want our local film industry to be sustainable. Though I respect the opinions of everyone who thinks I'm an idiot for writing my last post, I would ask y’all to consider these two arguments in support of sustainability:

1.) The Tax Credits Are Unpopular

If we want a sustainable film industry (supported by tax credits for the time being), we have to be considerate of Louisiana taxpayers.

Though I support all my friends who work on Hollywood sets and I hope for their job security, it’s not reasonable to expect taxpayers to keep handing money to Hollywood without any defined pathway toward generating a sustainable film industry.

We filmmakers need to prove to our fellow Louisianans that their money is being well spent.

Instead of being entirely uncritical of our industry and demanding free rain for Hollywood, we need to be open and willing for reform.

Capping the amount that the state spends on the film tax credit, will encourage more accountability in how the tax credits are spent.

That proven accountability will give we filmmakers more political fodder in proving that we should keep the tax credits in existence—instead of always being on the defensive, in fear that the tax credits will be cut entirely.

A lot of people say we’re doomed if we cap the tax credit. I say the tax credit is doomed to be cut if it’s beneficial only to Hollywood in its design.

2.) We Need to Give Ourselves Room to Grow

If we want to have a sustainable film industry in ten years, we must ultimately be making money on the content we produce—not the money suck out of Hollywood.

Yes, it’s true, most of us who are actually producing content in Louisiana (not just working to produce content for Hollywood), are making “movies that only [our moms] will enjoy.”

But up until now, we aspiring filmmakers have not been able to take advantage of the state’s tax credits, because the budget cap has been too high. If we re-structure the tax credits now to channel more money into producing local content (which HB 829 is built to do), we will give our local, aspiring filmmakers the ability to cut their teeth on small budget films.

In a couple years, after we’ve made our first feature films for $50k, we’ll be able to move on to making bigger budget films. We’ll be able to hire each other to work on our own films, and our job security won’t be dependent on Hollywood.

The Goal

The goal is not to make movie for our moms. The goal is also not to drive Hollywood away. The goal is to utilize tax credits to generate a sustainable local film industry.

I’ll work for Hollywood for now, but I don’t want to work for Hollywood forever. I want to make my own movies. In Louisiana. It’s Indywood South, baby.

Anyone who wants to grow a sustainable film industry in Louisiana should have hope and support HB 829.