An Oklahoma Senate Bill has been filed that would offer more incentives to filmmakers and producers who bring their projects to the state. Journal Record Editor Russell Ray discusses why some proponents view this bill as a front door to economic development.
Katelyn Howard: This is the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Katelyn Howard. With me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. There's a recent story by your reporter Molly Fleming that I'd like to discuss. She writes about a new bill filed that would increase current incentives for filmmakers and producers to bring their projects to the state. The proposed measure would raise the cap on the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program. Can you first explain the concept behind this program?
Russell Ray: Yeah that's right, Katelyn. It's a rebate program that compensates a filmmaker up to 35 percent of the money they spend on a film crew, equipment and other production needs. Last year, these incentives brought about $34 million in production funds to the state of Oklahoma. The program is administered by the Oklahoma Film + Music Office, which is part of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
Howard: Now the program is called the Film Enhancement Rebate Program, but it's broader than the name implies.
Ray: That's right. The money isn't just used for film productions. It can be used for productions featured on Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, Disney, Imperative Entertainment and much, much more. So Oklahoma is really a great place for these types of productions. The state has the infrastructure, and if it can provide the incentives, the state could capitalize on this new demand for good production locations.
Howard: Now I heard you mention Imperative Entertainment, which is the studio that's turning the non-fiction book "Killers of the Flower Moon" into a movie directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Since the story is set in Oklahoma, many are hoping that the movie will be made in the state. It hasn't been publicly confirmed yet where it will be made, but what are some of the new incentives this bill would add to attract filmmakers and producers to Oklahoma?
Ray: Yeah well, the biggest incentive would be raising the rebate from $4 million to $10 million. In addition to giving filmmakers back 35 percent of their costs, an additional 2 percent is granted if more than $20,000 is spent on music that is produced or licensed here in Oklahoma. It's also important to know that the state won't issue those funds until the receipts are returned and audited.
Howard: Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell says tourism is a front door to Oklahoma's economic development, and proponents suggest that in addition to increased exposure, this proposal would only bolster the industry in the state and perhaps lure more young creative entrepreneurs.
Ray: That's right. Tulsa and Oklahoma City have been ranked by some as one of the top places for business men and women. A lot of younger people are moving to Oklahoma so having a higher cap for filmmaking could help the state sustain that momentum. And as one tourism official told us, these production companies will go where those incentives are.
Howard: Another reason your reporter says that state tourism department officials are for this measure is because the department's marketing budget was cut and capped in 2015.
Ray: That's right. It's important to know that the marketing budget for tourism and recreation was cut 30 percent in 2015 and capped at $5.75 million. So a request has been made to add $3 million to the budget for fiscal year 2020. So some of the state’s revenue growth could be used to satisfy that request.
Howard: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. Thanks for your time today, Russell.
Ray: My pleasure, Katelyn. Thank You.
Howard: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook and Twitter @journalrecord and @kgounews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. While you're there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporting team. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Katelyn Howard.
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