Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I'm torn about tax breaks for filming, but there is no question that they can be better targeted for better results

There is no question that films that specifically highlight an area, such as the Napa Valley wine country in the movie, "Sideways," can foster a significant increase in tourism ("Sideways' in Santa Barbara wine country" from the Los Angeles Times) or how the book (1994) and film (1997) "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" still helps to stoke tourism in Savannah, even 15 years after the movie was first released.

Or "The Office" tv series which was set in Scranton, PA but not  produced there ("The Office leaves its mark on Scranton, Pennsylvania" from the Toronto Star).

Similarly, not only do television series focused on a particular locale (e.g., Law and Order in NYC vs. "Criminal Minds" ) have the potential to stoke tourism, such programs help to anchor film production in that area and provide work for actors, also supporting the industry and artistic disciplines in very specific ways.

Not only did this come up with the cancellation of L&O ("Law & Order' To the Actors' Rescue" and "Law and Order and Regular Employment" from the New York Times) and Homicide/The Wire which were shot in Baltimore, it's now an issue in Miami where CSI: Miami was cancelled a couple years ago and the USA Network show "Burn Notice" goes into its final season.  According to "Burn Notice' burns $25 million hole" from Miami Today News, the expected impact on the local film industry is a minimum of $25 million in lost business. From the article:

"Everyone — local hotels, car rentals, restaurants, retail stores — has benefited immensely from this show being produced in Miami," Ms. Lighterman said. Burn Notice "contributed to film-induced tourism and helped to make Miami sexy again. We have been privileged to have them call Miami-Dade County home, and they will be sorely missed." ...

The full effect of the departure of "Burn Notice" will probably be most keenly felt next spring, when the show traditionally began filming each season, she said. "At the time when they would normally be gearing up, if there is nothing new to take its place, there will be a couple of hundred people out of work and $25 million less coming into our community. We'll have to see."

In theater, this comes up in Kansas City, with the impending closure of the Heartland Theater ("KC theater community laments closing of American Heartland in August from the Kansas City Star). The theater's going dark will definitely make it harder for actors to make a living solely on roles available in the region. From the article:

Cathy Barnett, a veteran actress who has performed with most Kansas City theater companies as well as on stages across the country, is one of a handful of people who actually makes a living as a performer.

So for Barnett, the news that the American Heartland Theatre will close its doors in August, at the end of its current season, was a shock. And it had her calculating her future employment possibilities. With the loss of a for-profit company that has given work to most of the professional actors based in Kansas City, the local theater economy won’t be the same.

“I think from an actor’s point of view … there is the dinner theater, the American Heartland and the (Kansas City) Rep that actually pay a living wage and your insurance and offered you a real nice contract,” Barnett said. “It’s a living wage. And I’m not disrespecting the smaller houses, but to lose one of (the theaters) actors really counted on is terrible. As of right now, I have no work next year. I got nothin’.”

I think the lessons are pretty clear.

1. Focus on attracting an anchor television show shot in your locality to foster the development of a broad television and film production eco-system in your community, as way as a means to (positively hopefully) promote your community on national television.

2. Baring that, if you're going to give tax breaks, differentiate them, and support programs (movies and television shows) with tax breaks only when you can see a measurably positive effect on economic development, including the long term development of your local film production industry.  Otherwise it's hard to determine what the benefit really is.  See "Cut through the film tax credit fiction" from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

3. And meanwhile, plan for "anchor" television shows to end eventually, and work to develop new shows to replace them, otherwise your local production eco-system-cluster will whither away (an issue in Baltimore for example; in Miami, it is still rising as a production locale for Spanish-language programming, but you'd better be bilingual--"Spanish-Language TV Dramas Heat Up Miami" from the New York Times).

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At 8:37 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


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