Film Tax Credit Changes May Hurt Smaller Enterprises

By Flo Mitchell-Brown  | 

“This opinion piece, written by Flo Mitchell-Brown, was originally published by the Albany Times Union. In addition to her role as Head of Industry Engagement, Mitchell-Brown is the chair of the New York Production Alliance.”

While the comings and goings of movie stars in Hollywood get most of the attention in the entertainment world, a less glamorous but more important drama is unfolding here in New York for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods are tied to the film and TV industry.

Believe it or not, New York is the second-leading state — behind only California — for film and TV productions, generating $4.8 billion in spending and accounting for 254,400 new hires last year.

These jobs are held not by people named DiCaprio or Cruise or Streep, but a diverse array of New Yorkers who support productions in various sectors, from food and hospitality to logistics and transportation, construction, carpentry and electricity.

There is geographic diversity as well: Productions are increasingly setting up shop in places like the Hudson Valley, the Capital Region, Finger Lakes and Buffalo.

The proliferation of streaming services, combined with technological innovations that have lowered filming costs, have created a flourishing space for smaller productions that may never have made it to the starting line a decade or two ago.

That is why the New York State Film Tax Credit has such an important economic multiplier effect for communities throughout New York, a breeding ground for independent filmmaking. It has enabled smaller productions — those not financed by major Hollywood studios — to thrive, providing opportunities to a diverse cross-section of New Yorkers who might not otherwise get a foothold in the business.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been a very important ally of the New York film and TV industry, presiding over phenomenal job growth. In 2010, the year he was elected, 14 TV shows applied for the tax credit. In 2017, it was 72.

Changes to the tax credit proposed in the state budget, however, would have a severe impact on precisely the types of jobs we need to continue creating, particularly those for women, minorities and on smaller-scale projects.

By setting a minimum threshold on the budget of a production to qualify for the credit — $1 million in New York City and the surrounding suburbs, $250,000 upstate — the proposal would hit small, independent productions hardest.

In fact, 30 percent of all projects in the state would be shut out, with a disproportionate impact outside the New York City metropolitan area.

It could also make costs prohibitive for many productions led by women and minorities, who often face greater obstacles in securing financing. Currently, there is no minimum threshold to qualify.

A study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that the number of racial minorities in lead roles in top grossing movies has tripled over the past decade, a clear sign that the industry is making progress in including more voices and perspectives. That progress will be difficult to continue unless we further open paths for women and minorities to enter the business and thrive. That success trickles up, paving the way for more diversity at all levels of the industry.

A woman-owned $4.5 million studio and training facility featuring a 200,000-square-foot soundstage is set to open in Kingston. In addition to creating well-paying local jobs, Stockade Studio also includes a non-profit workforce training center for local residents interested in entering the industry.

This is the kind of investment we could lose if restrictive limits are set on which productions can qualify for the credit.

Tentpole franchise movies backed by Disney and the like may not see much difference, but for smaller, minority- and woman-led productions, and those far from the bright lights of New York City, it could make all the difference.

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Flo Mitchell-Brown
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