New legislation could give Oregon’s pandemic-battered film industry a much-needed boost.
House Bill 3244, introduced Feb. 23, would increase the maximum annual tax credit for certified film productions from $14 million to $20 million. That jump could give the state a leg up in hot competition for film projects.
“It’s huge for us,” said Tim Williams, executive director of Oregon Film, the state agency that helps attract movie projects to Oregon. “Every time we get an increase like that we see a proportionate increase in spending across the state.”
Oregon’s film and video tax credit has been around since 2005, when it was just $750,000 a year. Each legislative session the credit has gone up, leading to more production companies taking a harder look at Oregon, Williams said.
“Every year we use up our $14 million and could really use at last $7 million or $8 million more,” he said.
Oregon’s film incentive programs are rebates distributed to film production companies that spend money in the state on things like hiring crews, caterers or support staff. The state has the Oregon Production Investment Fund, which provides rebates of 20% on goods and services and 10% on labor for projects filmed in the state. There’s also the Local Oregon Production Investment Fund, which provides similar rebates to Oregon-based producers and companies. The Greenlight Oregon Labor Rebate provides a 6.2% rebate on payroll for most projects. The Regional Oregon Production Investment Fund was started in 2017 to encourage projects outside of Portland.
Between 2017 and 2018, nearly three dozen movie projects spent about $184 million in the state, providing about 6,000 jobs. From 2015 to 2017, about four dozen projects spent more than $300 million in the state.
Among those were Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment shows “Leverage” (four seasons, spending $120 million) and “The Librarians” (four seasons, spending $106 million). NBC’s “Grimm” filmed in the Portland area for six season, spending more than $200 million. IFC TV’s “Portlandia” turned the Rose City into a wacky backdrop for eight seasons, spending about $35 million.
Oregon has also attracted dozens of film projects during the past couple of decades, mostly because it was a short plane ride from Los Angeles and because of the state’s thriving film production industry. Recent movies filmed here include “A Stone in the Water,” filmed near Bend; “First Cow,” filmed in Portland and Elkton; “The Last Blockbuster,” filmed in Bend; “Timmy Failure,” filmed in Portland; “Sophie Jones,” filmed on the North Coast and in Portland; and “One Dead Dog,” filmed in Black Butte and Portland.
About three dozen states have similar film tax incentive programs. Oregon also competes with the Canadian tax credits, which draw production companies to Vancouver, B.C.
Continue the momentum
HB 3244 was introduced by Democratic state Reps. Nancy Nathanson of Eugene, Bob Nosse of Portland and Janelle Bynum of Clackamas. The bill hasn’t been assigned to a committee. Like other spending bills, it has to run a gauntlet of budget-writing subcommittees before it can get to a final vote.
Williams said state film advocates have worked for the past couple of weeks to get lawmakers to sponsor the legislation. It’s going to be a tough session for any funding increase, he said, but a jump in tax incentives for production companies could put badly needed money in local economies even as COVID-19 shutdowns continue.
Williams said Oregon’s film and television production industry had returned to pre-pandemic levels during the last few months of 2020. He pointed to production of the TV series “Top Chef: Portland,” which stayed in local hotel rooms and filmed six of its 14 episodes around the region. The production’s studio was inside the mostly empty Portland Expo Center.
A third and final season of Hulu’s “Shrill,” starring Aidy Bryant, was filmed in Portland between September and December. Facebook’s “The Birch” also filmed its second season mostly in Columbia County. Four Netflix projects are being produced in the region, three of them animated. And, a Sony feature film recently finished filming scenes in Coos and Curry counties.
Williams said the extra money in HB 3244 would help continue that momentum as the state’s economy tries to get back on its feet.
“The expansion of the program would allow us to increase our efforts in retaining locally produce projects shooting here in Oregon, as well attract more production coming in from outside the state,” he said.