On May 24 — the final day of this year’s session — the state House voted against extension of the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program, which provides incentives for qualifiying film productions that spend money on Oklahoma goods and services.
Before the vote, House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City called the Democrats in for caucus, and their majority, who had supported the bill previously, voted against it.
“It seems like we were collateral damage,” said Jill Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Film & Music Office.
She and other proponents of the program say it has proven its worth in economic development.
“For every dollar the state pays out in rebate, not tax credit, the state’s economy receives $3,” said Simpson. “The rebate is only for taxable items in Oklahoma, which means goods and services procured in-state.”
She added that the rebate has also generated jobs. The five movie productions in the rebate queue for fiscal year 2012, she said, created 1,087 part-time jobs, which translates to the equivalent of 140 full-time jobs. The economic impact for FY 2012 was roughly $66 million, Simpson said, an increase of $55 million since the program began in 2005.
But Inman said the rebate bill was poorly timed this session.
“My opposition is not to the merits of the program,” he said. “I believe the credit can be useful in ensuring we have a vibrant state. However, to extend the credit by an additional $3 million in the same legislative session in which we tell state troopers we can’t find $7.5 million for their pay increase was unconscionable to me.”
Meanwhile, other states are working to bolster similar film production incentives. Less than two weeks after Oklahoma failed to renew the rebate, Texas lawmakers tripled the Lone Star State’s incentive to $95 million over a two-year period.
Local filmmakers warn that the loss of the program would devastate movie production in the state.
“Film is all about having experience. The Oklahoma crew base is just now getting to be competitive,” said Casey Twenter, co-director and co-writer of the metro-lensed The Jogger, which screened this summer at the deadCENTER Film Festival. “We have all the crew we need to make films in Oklahoma, and now those people are going to be faced with tough decisions about leaving their home to do this work elsewhere.”
Twenter and his collaborator, Jeff Robison, wrote the screenplay for Rudderless, which recently wrapped up shooting in the metro. Starring Billy Crudup and Selena Gomez and marking the directorial debut of actor William H. Macy, the production qualified for the rebate.
“We’ve made a few films and hope to continue,” Twenter said. “The lack of rebates will make that hard, and we could start looking to the rebate programs in other states, but we’re hoping next February the politicians will make a more informed decision.”
The rebate program doesn’t sunset until July 2014, and there are still two films left in the rebate queue. Officials of the state Tourism and Recreation Department, which houses the Oklahoma Film & Music office, say they are ready to fight for the rebate next legislative session.
“This industry diversifies Oklahoma’s economy,” said Simpson. “Being a jobs creator and not putting all of our eggs in one basket? That’s a wise goal for any state.”
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