Should the Sooner State be subsidizing Tinseltown amid the budget crisis?


Should the Sooner State be subsidizing Tinseltown amid the budget crisis? Critics of the state’s film incentive argue the return on investment is draining the state of much needed money without meeting the core objectives of the program.

Arguably the best known “Oklahoma” film was the 1996 blockbuster, Twister. However, that film was shot long before Oklahoma began to offer rebates to film producers. These days the incentive is capped at $4 million each year that is handed out to producers and production companies that choose to bring their work to Oklahoma.

“I've talked to a lot of friends here in L.A.. and people around the country who are bringing their films to Oklahoma just because the crew base is getting better and better,” said Derek Brown, the Vice President of Development and Production for Red Productions.

Red Productions recently wrapped up filming for its latest movie, “Sleeping in Plastic,” which is a crime thriller set in a small Texas town. Instead of shooting the film in Texas, “Sleeping in Plastic” used Harrah as its backdrop to portray the big screen action because of the state’s incentive program.

“I think the common misconception with tax incentives is that it is a hand out to Hollywood elites,” Brown told FOX 25, “That's not at all the case we hire the people we do the work and hire the people in state all before we see a dime back in state.”

Brown says the film incentive has led to more jobs and expanded the crew base in Oklahoma.

In fact, Movie Maker magazine ranked Oklahoma City as the 12th best big city to live in for film professionals in its ranking of 18 different cities. The magazine remarked on the state's film incentive as one of the reasons for the ranking.

“The incentive program in Oklahoma is pretty young,” Brown said, “And I think with any state whenever they introduce a new incentive program it is going to naturally grow your film crew base and your production base.”

Behind those positive headlines is a different story.

The state's incentive review commission commissioned an independent review of the film incentive and found for every dollar the state spends on the incentive it gets back just 13 cents.

“This is real money,” said Trent England with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, “It used to be $5 million a year now it's $4 million a year. This is real money that could go to teachers; it could go to curriculum; it could go to public safety; it could fill potholes; and instead at best we are subsidizing millionaire filmmakers. And at worst we're subsidizing hobby filmmakers on productions that never go anywhere.”

When it comes to the job creation goal of the incentive England pointed to the review that showed almost any jobs associated with individual films are likely temporary. Another goal of the incentive was to enhance the state’s image and the review found little evidence this was happening. In fact, some films pick locations based on what they look like, not necessarily because they want to be specifically in Oklahoma.

“Let's face it,” England said, “Film incentives are largely about politicians getting to hob knob with celebrities; getting to claim credit for bringing somebody important to the local town and all of that goes away and lingers in the egos of politicians.”

The analysis of Oklahoma’s incentive shows that Oklahoma joined a wave of other states that created incentive programs. However, a recent look shows some of those states abandoned incentive programs when the return on investment was analyzed. Reviewers found that regardless of how well an incentive program was managed, they rarely provide more than a few cents on the dollar in return.

The Oklahoma Film Commission argues the return on investment was determined based on a review of the down period of the incentive. Film Commission director, Tava Maloy Sofsky said the review covered a period of uncertainty which led to fewer productions before the incentive was renewed and since its renewal the investment in Oklahoma by film producers has grown.

The official recommendation to the incentive review commission was to allow the film incentive to go away when it is scheduled to expire in 2024, however some legislative and policy leaders argue the program should be ended sooner.

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