Local film industry could face troubles

Chris James/Pioneer
Director, Joseph Dixon, 24, gives his actors, Francisco Ceruantes, 25, and Juan Luna, 22, instructions on behaving like angry Mexican federales towards interrogated actor, Ronnie Wiskup, 32, while cameraman, Micheal Hannifan, 31, prepares to film the improvisation activity at OCCC on March 26. Professor Mellott chose the director, and the director then chose his actors, cameramen, and a person to run sound.

Oklahoma’s fledgling film industry could be in danger, said Jazz Bishop, film and video student.

“There’s two bills in the state Senate right now that could gut the entire film industry here in Oklahoma,” Bishop said.

“Senate Bill 1435, would repeal the tax credit for the film industry immediately, which would stop the film industry here dead.

“SB 1623 would be a gradual reduction that would cut it in half next year, and completely eliminate it the year after. Without that deal to give them an incentive, film makers have no reason to come here to produce films when they could get a better deal elsewhere.”

This viewpoint is shared by Rick Allen Lippert, video production adjunct professor. “I think this legislation would kill (the film industry),” Lippert said.

“So much of the film work that has been going on the past several years is a direct result of the incentive. Filmmakers will go where they can get the best deal. Oklahoma was a pioneer in offering incentives to filmmakers, and that’s what brought a lot of films here, why we have people working in the industry here.”

Lippert said he believes the consequences of the legislation could reach even further, affecting OCCC’s film and video program.

“The incentives are why we have a 5,000 foot sound stage on our campus. It was all part of a grand plan to create an industry,” Lippert said.

“I would go as far as to say that if these tax credits are done away with, our own film program will probably be gotten rid of. Because there won’t be an industry, or a need to train people for that industry, because no one will be shooting films here.”

Bishop said the introduction of the legislation alone has already hit Oklahoma’s film industry hard.

“There was a movie written by an Oklahoma author, going to be filmed in Oklahoma by Dreamworks. But because there was some doubt about whether they would get the tax credit, Dreamworks moved that whole film to Canada,” he said.

“We lost another film called ‘Thunderstruck,’ about Kevin Durant. That one got moved to Louisiana. They grabbed some production shots here, but the bulk of it was done in elsewhere.”

But the loss of those tax credits may not be preventable, said Gray Frederickson, OCCC film and video artist in residence, who produced the “Godfather” trilogy. Frederickson said that after the film “Twister” was shot in Oklahoma, lawmaker’s liked the results.

“They came in here and dropped probably about $13 million into the state’s economy, without polluting or making a mess, and the Legislature began saying they wanted more films.”

He said he told them they needed a couple of things for that to happen.

“We have nothing here that a filmmaker can’t get an hour outside LA. And they’re not going to come here for the chicken-fried steak. They’re going to come here if the prices are better, and they’re going to come here if there’s a crew base.”

Frederickson said the main reason the tax credits passed in the first place was that at a 15 percent rate, the state was breaking even.

“About two years ago, the new film commission got the rebate raised to 35 percent from 15 percent” he said.

“When I went to get that first break passed, the Compete With Canada Act, I asked for 20 percent. They did a study, came back and said that at twenty, the state was losing money. But they said that fifteen percent would be a zero sum. They wouldn’t make any money, but they wouldn’t lose any money,” Frederickson said.

“When they upped it to 35 percent, I wondered how the heck they were going to cover that?

“And in fact somebody over at the capitol started running the numbers and looking at the books, and realized they were losing money,” he said. They’ve since lowered the tax credit to 17 percent, Frederickson said.

Lippert, who runs a video production company in addition to teaching, said one of the main reasons cited for the loss of the credits is the lack of stable jobs created by the film industry.

“But the oil and gas industry drills holes, and they employ contract roughnecks to work on the hole as it’s being drilled. When they finish drilling, those roughnecks have to move on to another hole, another job,” he said.

“In the same way, crews for a film work on a film, then move on to another film when they finish. It’s the same model that the oil and gas industry uses, but no one talks about the oil and gas industry not creating permanent jobs, even though they get a lot more tax credits.”

Frederickson acknowledged the temporary nature of movie work, noting the lack of work and the long lags between projects, even in movie hubs like Hollywood.

“But you think about it, the oil and gas industry bring in millions of dollars of revenue each year. Their tax incentives make the state money,” he said. “There’s really no comparison.”

Sean Lynch, film and video production equipment coordinator, said that  the loss of the tax break would not be a deathblow.

“We‘re a homegrown industry. If the out-of-state companies stop coming here and shooting, we’ll be no better or worse off than we were when we started.

“We’ll just have to build it up on our own.” he said.


To contact Jeremy Cloud, email editor@occc.edu.

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