Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Inventive Incentives

Posted By on Wed, Sep 3, 2014 at 6:00 AM

In March, frustrated by the filming of John Green's Fault in our Stars in Pittsburgh as a stand-in for Indy, I took virtual pen to paper to rail against our state's shortsightedness. In my somebody-really-needs-to-do-something-about-this rant, I argued that Indiana is really missing out by not giving tax credits that are competitive with our surrounding states.

Well, I happily discovered folks who are really doing that. Last week, thanks to a notice in the Arts Council's weekly e-newsletter, I attended a breakfast informational meeting at Heartland Film's HQ in Fountain Square by the Indiana Media Production Alliance. The organization works on "improving and growing the media and film production industry by supporting policy, providing services and information to generate jobs, advance the interests of the community and retain skilled professionals and graduates in the state."

They've been up and running for a few years now, they have an executive board, run a membership, meet monthly at the Speak Easy in SoBro and have already been talking with our state government officials.

When meeting with these legislators, the main question arises: "What are their main points of resistance?" Glenn Pratt, IMPA president responded, "It's a lack of knowledge about the issue."

click to enlarge "The reality is, freelancers... live here in the community where we work, volunteer and reinvest our incomes into the local economy," says IMPA vice president Sheila Plank. - COURTESY OF IMPA
  • Courtesy of IMPA
  • "The reality is, freelancers... live here in the community where we work, volunteer and reinvest our incomes into the local economy," says IMPA vice president Sheila Plank.

So the group comes armed with some impressive stats, particularly on return on investment. For instance, the IMPA quotes findings from a Louisiana auditor's office 2010 impact analysis, which found that "Louisiana's tax credit economic output reached about $5.40 for every $1 of tax credits awarded."

So what will make us competitive? The IMPA is lobbying on these main points:

  • A 30 percent rebate or refundable tax credit on all qualified production expenditures and nonresident labor.

  • An additional 10 percent rebate or refundable tax credit on resident labor up to $100,000 per individual.

  • An additional 5 percent rebate or refundable tax credit on Indiana American Veteran labor up to $100,000 per individual.

  • An additional 5 percent rebate or refundable tax credit on all qualified production expenditures excluding resident labor if story has contextual connection to Indiana, portrays Indiana in a favorable light or if filmed primarily in economically depressed area.

  • A production is limited to 40 percent combined tax credit on any qualified production expenditure, except veteran hires which allows up to 45 percent.

  • The tax credit only applies to expenditures that go directly to Indiana businesses and professionals.

There's more that they think would make us truly competitive, which they explain on their website.

Though landing location shooting for that next multimillion-dollar blockbuster with Brad Pitt would definitely be a prime time score, competitive tax credits are more about keeping local filmmakers working here locally.

"One of the perceptions out there that we have to overcome is the notion that film and media production crew positions are just temporary jobs and represent a transient workforce," says Sheila Plank, IMPA's vice president of operations. "That is to say, they don't create real jobs or have a lasting economic impact.

"The reality is, freelancers like Glenn and myself live here in the community where we work, volunteer and reinvest our incomes into the local economy," she continues. "We are not passing through. In fact, we spend a good deal of our free time working for the betterment of our community."

Plank is, indeed, very active in the community, volunteering not just for the IMPA, but also Girls, Inc. of Indianapolis and the FACE low-cost spay and neuter clinic. Earlier this year, she also started an Indianapolis chapter of the international nonprofit Films for Action, which hosts local screenings of documentaries and then connects audiences with local vehicles for taking direct action on the particular issue presented in the film. Last Saturday, the group showed the documentary Not My Life about human trafficking.

"This brings together film lovers with a variety of local nonprofits and builds bridges across the communities of concerned citizens within our city," Plank says. "This is the work that is nearest and dearest to my heart, and as a documentary filmmaker myself, I am particularly motivated to bring these very important films to Indianapolis audiences."

Currently Plank does a lot of freelance writing but "the day rates paid to professional crew members are considerably higher than what I can earn by writing," she explains. "By my estimation, if I could work an average of five days on set each month it would support all the other work that I do. For others that number may be higher."

If you're interested in becoming a member or joining the campaign, sign up on their website.

Hopefully, our legislators will realize that Indiana can also use tax credits and incentives to attract show business and not just big business.

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Hugh Vandivier

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Hugh Vandivier is an online editor for Angie’s List. He’s a proud alum and volunteer for Wabash College, holds an MSJ from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and was a board member and director of grassroots arts nonprofit Primary Colours. He also interviewed Indy native Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in 2002.

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