Lawmakers want to renew a $3.5 million incentive program to encourage the film industry to make movies in Washington. They’ve added another $3 million to lure production of “The Boys in the Boat” to the state.
OLYMPIA — State lawmakers are again seeking to renew a $3.5 million program to encourage the film industry to make movies in Washington.
But they’ve added another sweetener this time around — an additional $3 million aimed at luring production of the feature film based on the best-selling book “The Boys in the Boat” to the state.
The legislation says the additional money would go to a major motion picture with a budget of at least $20 million that portrays a significant event in Washington during the 20th century.
Supporters of the bill say the legislation could benefit many films. But none could name one that would meet the criteria and timeline other than the adaptation of Daniel James Brown’s true saga of the University of Washington rowing team that competed for the United States and won the 1936 Olympic gold medal in Hitler’s Germany.
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“I’m not saying [‘The Boys in the Boat’] is the only one. But historically I can only think of one,” said Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, a sponsor of the legislation.
The Weinstein Company, a New York-based studio, bought the rights to produce the film in 2011 and has teased the idea of shooting the movie in Washington.
But in an industry where production companies frequently chase financial incentives, the state’s $3.5 million program hasn’t been enough to land the movie, said Amy Lillard, who leads Washington Filmworks, the nonprofit that administers Washington’s film-incentive program.
House Bill 1527 and its Senate companion bill, SB 5502, would renew the program, which is set to expire July 1, and establish the additional $3 million incentive with a particular kind of movie in mind.
The state’s film program pales in comparison to nearby competitors. British Columbia has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to attract TV and movie production, while Oregon provides $14 million.
Lillard said the state is losing millions of dollars in business due to the comparatively small incentives available.
“Last year we had seven productions apply for funding, but we were only able to fund one of them,” Lillard said. “Those other six projects would have filmed here if we had the money to fund them.”
The project that got financial help is the popular Syfy network show, “Z Nation,” which has been shot almost exclusively in Spokane.
The new $3 million incentive, unlike the simple increase that was previously proposed, would be targeted at a motion picture that can start production by July 1, 2019. Given that major film and television productions often take years to get going, a two-year deadline could benefit movies that are almost ready to shoot.
The Weinstein Company did not return calls and emails Thursday seeking comment.
The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, argued that other films could benefit from the incentives if they met the bill’s requirements, but “the impetus is for ‘Boys in the Boat.’ ”
The targeted $3 million incentive would work much like the general film and television program. Given that state law prohibits agencies like Washington Filmworks from donating state money directly to third parties, the organization can help fund production companies through a multistep process.
First, Filmworks raises money on its own, up to the total amount allowed for tax credits in the legislation. With the contributions in hand, Filmworks works through the state Department of Revenue to provide the donor with a business and occupation tax credit equal to the amount given. Filmworks then passes the money raised on to film and television productions that meet its funding criteria.
Supporters of the legislation argue that the incentive program is worth the cost in reduced tax revenue. At a public hearing in Olympia Thursday on HB 1527, Riccelli argued that for every dollar of incentive funding provided, the production company generates an estimated $10 of economic activity for the state.
Still, not all lawmakers are sold.
“We have some members that are concerned about that large expenditure, given that the priority is education, homelessness and mental health, and we have to be very judicious about how we spend our money,” said Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, who chairs the House committee on Finance that is currently reviewing HB 1527.
“The Weinstein Company has significant resources, so is this the best use of our money?” Lytton said.
The legislation awaits votes in the House and Senate committees where the bills are being reviewed.