Entertainment unions back film production tax credit

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Bill Devins knows a single piece of legislation can have a huge effect on his members’ pocketbooks. He saw it happen when the state revoked the tax credit to attract film production to Minnesota.

“When the previous legislation was in effect, we had about 160 members,” said Devins, business manager for IATSE Local 490. “In the three years since it went away, I lost 52 percent of my membership.”

Local 490 represents workers who do the lighting, scenery, hair, makeup, wardrobe, special effects and more on film and television productions. The union is among several organizations supporting H.F. 3226, legislation to renew the film production tax credit. A Minnesota House committee heard the bill Thursday and unanimously voted to forward it to the Tax Committee.

The legislation establishes a 15 percent income tax credit for film production expenditures in Minnesota as an incentive to draw filmmakers to the state.

The bill’s author, Rep. Mike Charron, R-Woodbury, said 68 films were made in Minnesota in the 1990s, pumping $121 million into the Minnesota economy. Movies such as “Grumpy Old Men” showcased the state’s people and natural resources. “Can you think of a better commercial for the state of Minnesota?” he asked.

Minnesota was the first state to offer a tax credit incentive for filmmaking, but the program was dropped during Gov. Jesse Ventura’s administration, Charron said. Today, Minnesota is one of only five states that don’t offer an incentive, he said.

Lucinda Winter, executive director of the Minnesota Film and Television Board, said, “Without an incentive program, we cannot even get a conversation started (with filmmakers) about the many assets our state has to offer.”

Twin Cities writer, director and actor Patrick Coyle filmed Detective Fiction in the state with the help of the previous tax credit. He told lawmakers that his new film, “Broken Bow,” will be made in Illinois because producers were attracted by that state’s generous incentive program.

In the ’90s, Local 490 members worked on a number of high-profile films. They did everything from positioning snow around the fishhouse in Grumpy Old Men – starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau – to building elaborate interior sets for the Billy Bob Thornton/Bill Paxton thriller “A Simple Plan.”

With production going elsewhere, some Local 490 members have left the state while others have found different jobs, Devins said. In contrast, “New Mexico’s membership tripled” as that state boosted its incentive program.

The Teamsters union is supporting the film production tax credit as “good for the state,” said Don Gerdesmeier, director of Teamsters DRIVE. “We have a lot of members working in this industry.”

Part of the Academy Award-nominated film, “North Country,” was recently filmed in northern Minnesota, but only because of incentives provided by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, those testifying at the House hearing said.

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