Monday, July 19, 2010

Republican Candidates for Governor Support Film Incentives... in Wisconsin

Imagine what would have happened if we had taken Nancy Cassis' advice and cut or eliminated Michigan's film incentives. It probably would look a lot like what is happening in Wisconsin, where Governor Jim Doyle changed the state's 25% credit into a grant program with a yearly spending cap... and now Republican candidates for governor are vowing to reinstate some version of the incentives, although they are being pretty vague about how they would do it.

The three main gubernatorial candidates all support changing the state's film incentives to attract more film projects, after Gov. Jim Doyle drastically scaled back tax credits a year ago.


(Republican candidate Scott) Walker's spokeswoman Jill Bader said Walker was disappointed that Doyle made the incentives less attractive and he is looking at what other states have done before he comes up with a final plan.

"The film tax credits can give Wisconsin the competitive advantage we need to bring jobs and investment into the state," Walker said in a statement.

(Republican Mark) Neumann's spokesman Chris Lato said Neumann supports tax credits that lead to business growth. He said Neumann would conduct a cost analysis to ensure the incentives result in measurable economic development. He said the previous credits didn't have focus on developing a thriving new industry, and "Mark would demand more accountability and would work to ensure a more favorable result."

Yeah, yeah, more politician-speak about "accountability" which is all fine and dandy, and who knows if those Republicans are really sincere about returning the incentives or just playing to election-year expectations, but the lesson learned in Wisconsin should serve as a warning to us in Michigan that if we plan on cutting our incentives, we can pretty much kiss this business goodbye. That is exactly what happened in Wisconsin when Doyle changed the program; films stopped shooting, studios went bankrupt, and the ones that are left are clamoring for the credits to return.

Jay Schillinger used to be head of business development at Pulse Communications in Green Bay, which had planned to expand in response to the incentives. But the owner declared bankruptcy, partly because of losing business due to the changed incentives. Schillinger bought the assets and started NorthCoast Productions in Green Bay. He said it's been doing well, concentrating on video production and commercials but he's pushing for better incentives knowing he and other parts of the industry could do much better.

He said the Depp film was great, but they had a number of independent films planning to film in Wisconsin that left when the incentives changed.

He said the industry was just gaining momentum when Doyle's actions caused it to come to a "screeching halt."

"We have to give it a chance and if the candidates are sincere in this, which I think they are, it needs time," he said. "... I think it's not far-fetched to think that Wisconsin could really be a hub of film making activity, which would be great for job creation."

Michigan has major studios in the works, especially in the Detroit area, facilities that will create thousands of permanent jobs in the entertainment industry for our state. But, as quickly as they came here, they can pack up and leave again as well - as some fledgling studios in Wisconsin found out the hard way.

Remember that the next time some Michigan Republican complains about the film credits - there are other states that are looking to get back in the game after cutting their incentives, and they will be glad to take this business, and the jobs it creates, away from us. Sure would be a shame to lose the momentum that we have developed to another state - only to revisit the issue a couple of years down the road and have to play catch-up once again.