Economy and Government and Economic Development and Manufacturing & Technology and Media & Marketing

Roll the cameras: State cranks up efforts to court film industry under new task force

February 13, 2006

North Carolina offers a 15-percent tax credit to filmmakers to help offset production costs. The credit recently helped sway a national retailer to shoot an in-store commercial there instead of in Indiana.

While the $600,000 production hardly compares to a multimillion-dollar motion picture, losing it was a big deal for local companies that didn't get the work.

Holli Hanley of Grand Illusion Lighting Inc. in Zionsville, which rents lighting equipment to production companies, lamented the loss.

"Everyone in the entire [film] community lost out on it," she said of the job.

Gov. Mitch Daniels hopes more positive stories will emerge from the state's film industry. His decision to overhaul the for- mer Indiana Film Commission into what is now known as the Indiana Media Industry Network task force reflects the administration's commitment to the film industry, state officials said.

Formed in May, the IMIN task force is just 9 months old. Members of the non-partisan committee are no longer appointed by the governor, and act as advisers to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and project manager Whitney Overturf, who oversees the initiative.

Armed with new incentives, the role of the IMIN task force is to elicit investments from the film industry by promoting the state as an A-list shooting location.

Never to be mistaken for a Midwestern Hollywood, Indiana nonetheless has had some success in attracting moviemakers.

"Rudy," "A League of Their Own," "Hoosiers," and "Breaking Away" are among the most notable flicks filmed on state soil. The problem is they debuted in theaters from 13 to 27 years ago.

"We want to attract film and media companies that can create job growth in the state," Overturf said. "The IEDC views film as an economic driver, just as it does manufacturing or anything else."

State officials involved in the initiative concede the effort will take time, and a lot of work. Overturf and Michael S. "Mickey" Maurer, Indiana secretary of commerce, say progress is being made.

The independent film "Madison," a story about the 1971 Madison Regatta hydroplane race, was released last year and generated $3.5 million for the local economy, Overturf said.

And crews shot footage of the Indiana Statehouse for the CBS television drama "Close To Home," about an Indianapolis prosecutor.

The IEDC will unveil a new Web site in the coming weeks, and the agency is partnering with Ball State University's Center for Media Design to create a database of locations in which production companies can film.

The aim of the database is to save them the trouble of traveling to Indiana to personally scout potential locations, when they can view the sites online.

Michael Husain, president of Indianapolis-based Pathway Productions, which recently produced a documentary about Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse airing on ESPN Classic, thinks Indiana can become a player in the film industry.

Having the Heartland Film Festival, which is growing in stature, helps the cause, he said.

"You have to take that first step and make it a big one," Husain said. "It's going to take a little bit of vision and courage from the lawmakers' perspective, and then we're there."

Incentives available

The Indiana General Assembly last session extended the Hoosier Business Investment Tax Credit, which gives a 10-percent break on equipment, machinery and buildings to movie and audio productions. Legislation also authorized the use of stateand university-owned property without charge for filmmaking purposes.

State legislators this year are on their way to passing a sales-tax exemption for television and film productions, although supporters are working to include filmed advertisements and corporate videos in the bill as well. It is estimated the lower-budget productions account for about 80 percent of the $350 million the entertainment industry in Indiana generates annually.

House Bill 1007, authored by Reps. Tim Harris, R-Marion, and Sheila Klinker, DLafayette, passed the House and has been referred to the Senate's Committee on Tax & Fiscal Policy. The fiscal impact to the state from fiscal 2007 to fiscal 2012 is estimated between $34 million and $63.9 million, according to the Legislative Services Agency.

More desired

George Evans, executive producer of locally based ASA Productions Inc., a music and sound design company, is encouraged by the steps state government has taken to market Indiana as a filmfriendly destination.

Evans said he and others he's talked to in the film industry think the progress is good, but falls short of an Oscar nomination.

"We've made some good steps, but we're being outpaced by much of the rest of the country," said Evans, a founding member of the IMIN task force. "We just can't get certain individuals to listen. I'm a little frustrated, but we have to move forward."

Indeed, many states-such as North Carolina, which passed its incentive package last year-are attempting to cash in on the lucrative film industry as well.

Spending in Louisiana, for instance, hovered around $20 million annually for years until state legislators there passed incentives for filmmakers in 2002. Two years later, the Louisiana Film and Video Commission reported film companies spent more than $350 million there, as the state granted $83 million in tax credits.

Illinois, New Mexico and New York are other states mentioned among the most aggressive. Wisconsin could join the fray soon, however. Pending legislation includes a 25-percent tax credit for Wisconsin-based productions and a 15-percent state income tax credit.

Seeking income tax credit

Lobbying efforts to include an income tax credit for film productions fell short in Indiana, as the measure was not included in legislation this year.

IMIN task force Chairman Greg Malone, executive producer of locally based Road Pictures, a film and video production company, thinks the state is making strides. But an income tax credit would help even more, he said.

"If the sales tax credit passes, that in combination with the things we already have will certainly make Indiana more attractive," Malone said. "But it's certainly not enough financial incentive to swing a major picture."

Major movies draw notice, but smaller film projects also bring money to the state. In January, Road Pictures produced a promotional film for Dupont Hospital of Fort Wayne. Some of it was filmed at the Rathskeller Restaurant in Indianapolis.

Ten Indiana companies and a half-dozen out-of-state companies were involved in the production and post-production of the project, according to Malone. More than 50 hotel room nights were purchased in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne during the shoot.

Maurer said the state should be able to carve out a share of the market for films big and small.

"We have some [movie] heritage in Indiana," he said, "and we need to recapture it."

Maurer, also co-owner of IBJ Corp., parent of the Indianapolis Business Journal, has some experience in the film industry. He is confident the state will fare better than "Diving In," an unsuccessful local flick he helped produce in 1990, which he said one critic panned as going "straight to the bottom."
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