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Iowa Film Industry - More than A Field of Dreams? (Feature)

posted on May 13, 2008 at 10:10 AM

Last year Governor Chet Culver signed a law designed to promoteand develop Iowa'sfilm industry. The Iowa Film PromotionAct authorized tax incentives that help make Iowa a more attractive place to shoot afilm.

By all accounts the incentives are bringing filmmakers tothe state. The tax breaks rival, if notexceed anything offered in the U.S.

But, the success of the new incentives is also presentingthe state with not only opportunities, but challenges.

Film Director: "Action!"

The law provides a 25 percenttax credit to film producers and investors on money spent exclusively in thestate. Tom Wheeler of the Iowa FilmOffice, a division of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, says it putsthe state on a level playing field, not only in the Midwestbut across the country. And, he adds, Iowa's incentives goeven further.

TomWheeler, Iowa Film Office: “Well we offer two things that the other statesdon't do. One of which is that theinvestors into a project receive a direct benefit from the state, fromDepartment of Economic Development and the vendors also receive a directbenefit from the state.

“Theinvestors receive what the producers receive which is the key core of theprogram and the producers receive twenty-five percent of what they spend as atransferable income tax credit. So, thatmeans that the investor pool also receives twenty-five percent of what theproducer spends, and the vendors are allowed to exclude one hundred percent ofthe income they're paid from any project, any registered projects.

“So,they get to work tax free, and that's particularly interesting to my colleaguesbecause our program like many others require the use of local companies and localindividuals to count those expenditures in the state.”

Oneof the first films to embrace the Iowa Film Promotion Act is Duck Farm Number13 written and directed by Iowanative Becky Smith. The independentfeature film is a coming of age story that takes place on a September Saturdayand was filmed in McGregor. Smith saysthe recent law was the deciding factor in making her film in the state.

Becky Smith, Duck Farm Number13: “Investors looking for things in Iowareally want it to be something that brings more back to Iowa. So, to have film become more viable, which it should be. It's a lovely place. People are not cynical. They really embrace the film community. It's a perfect place to have more filmmakingtaking place.

“So, I think investors lookedat the tax incentives. They looked atwhat kind of money can come into the community that are staying there for sixweeks. So, it is tremendously helpful,and it's really helpful to us financially.”

Wheeler notes, however, thatin order to fully benefit from the tax incentives, Iowa will need to build its filmmakinginfrastructure. He is concerned with thecurrent depth of the crew base.

TomWheeler, Iowa Film Office: “Actually all of the recent projects of any sizehave had trouble crewing up...They will always need to hire the core elementsof the crew which we um, don't have enough of to be frank about it. We certainly have very talented group ofindividuals out there.

“Moreoften that not though, they are already hired by either a television commercialor right now it's the political campaign season and so those individuals whoare sought after are found and employed and we would like to be able to growthat base of the production assistant, the grip, the gaffer and some of theranks a little bit higher to make sure there are maybe as many as three crewsavailable any given time.”

Tothat end, the Iowa Motion Picture Association has conducted five workshopsfinanced in part by the state to develop production crews. More than a 125 people paid to attend theintensive sessions held over 5 weekends.

Manythat were trained are currently working on a new film titled “South Dakota” that is being shot on locations in Des Moines and Earlham. Given that as much as three-fourths of amovie’s cost is labor, filmmaking can be a significant boost to localeconomies.

Agreater film workforce along with the tax incentives enhances the Iowa’s ability to securenew projects.

TomWheeler, Iowa Film Office: “Well the final season is a great ah example of whatcan happen. they shot in the CedarRapids vicinity, Norway, Iowa just last year andthey estimate spending directly into the community somewhere between sevenhundred and fifty thousand and a million dollars.”

Becky Smith, Duck Farm Number13: “All of our meals are here. One ofthe coffee houses does all of our craft services, so this is full-timeemployment for them for three to four weeks. We have been in the housing here, taking up a large number of the Bedand Breakfasts and motel rooms for about six weeks.

“Our transportation vehiclescome from here. We fly in and out usinglocal travel agents. Our crew shops hereon their down time. And, then I also amassuming that once people see the film and see how beautiful it is and see thedowntown, that perhaps, there will be even more interest in coming to thearea. Saying, this is a beautifulspot. I'd love to go check it out.”


Tags: economy filmmaking films industry Iowa jobs politics taxes


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