Thursday, March 06, 2008

SC Film Incentives, part 1

More on Joe Taylor pushing SC's film industry off the roof.

Here is an excerpt from an article written by SC Speaker of the House, Bobby Harrell and printed in The State newspaper this past weekend.

In June, by using a loophole in the law, Commerce changed and reduced the incentives we offer film productions. The resulting negative impact on the film industry in our state was immediate. We have seen projects that were attracted to South Carolina forced to go to other states at the last minute because incentives originally advertised to them had been suddenly changed.

As a result of the changes that were made, we have seen a mass exodus of the film industry from our state. We have lost our competitive edge in an industry where tax incentives make or break deals.

I worked for Commerce last year, and left the film office as soon as it became apparent that Joe Taylor, secretary of Commerce, was manipulating the film incentive legislation in a manner directly opposed to legislator's intent. The incentive proviso with the unfortunate wording "up to" in front of the intended incentive amounts was the loophole he used.

Let me insert here that I lean far more toward Libertarianism than many in my field. However, though I generally oppose corporate welfare, I think it is unethical to try and thwart elected officials' promises to their constituents. SC legislators intended that the incentives listed in the film proviso be used. Those elected officials promised us they would try to lure film, at first with incentives, and later, when we establish a base of talented, well trained technicians, by other means. It was a five year plan that involved priming the pump with incentives. The booming Canadian film industry gave us a fantastic example of how successfully such a plan works.

Joe Taylor's arrogant decision not to honor this contract with the people of SC appalls me.

I drafted a letter to Governor Sanford, and had it hand delived to his office. The letter my concern over not only the bait and switch done to incoming films at the time, but also what I see as a brain drain at the department of Commerce under Secretary Joe Taylor.

Sanford never sent me a response.

My first view of Joe Taylor's bait and switch came to light the day we at the film office got a call from a livid film producer who had set up shop in SC. It was a low-to-medium budget production, primarily black cast. They came to SC because of the incentives we told them they would receive, set up an office, and began to hire crew. Bang! The incentives on their paperwork drastically changed from what was promised AFTER they got here - after they started spending money - and, as a result, their main financer pulled about 1/4 of the film's money, basically shutting them down.

Just what SC needed, to bring in a black film and then say, "HA, SUCKERS, we tricked you!!!" Some serious political string pulling got it pretty much back on track with the promised incentives. I almost wish it had gone public - just picture what the NAACP would do with that news. But, though the community at large may not have heard about it, you can bet Hollywood did. I was inundated with calls from producers wanting to know what was going on.

That is when I knew I had to leave. My reputation in my industry, whatever it's worth, was at stake.
Here is part two, if you want to keep reading.


Anonymous said...

It's good to hear from you, Heidi. I'm a fellow filmmaker here in SC and I want more to happen here. Yet, though it may help to wait longer, I have been waiting for eight years, and am still looking outside the state. You may not remember when I was in a filmmaking workshop with you and Wade Sellers in 2003, but I've joined myself over the Web with the SouthEast Film Association. I don't know if you've heard of them. Anyway, I hope you reply to this. If nothing works with the politicians here, I suggest another venue.

Heidi Mehltretter said...

I probably would remember you if I knew your name:).
That was a fun group. So glad you are doing work in the business. Please do write your house rep!

Anonymous said...

Heidi! How's it going? I think that your article is awesome, and I totally agree with everything you have mentioned. I support you! I've been writing our representatives about this concern a couple of times last took me much longer to receive a reply! They don't give a 'you-know-what' about this industry, and I'm going to be honest here--- he's an *. The only thing we can do is to stand up together. Wouldn't all this make a good doc?

label me. productions

Anonymous said...

My name's Garret. Posted the first comment.

Heidi Mehltretter said...

Of course I remember, so glad you are working in something you love!

Anonymous said...

It's a shame you left the film commission. With the passion you have, surely you could have fought the dark night and slaughtered his stupid @$$.

After reading both sides of the story, I think both sides have good arguments. However, Joe shouldn't pull the chair out when he feels like it. Until we build a large crew base, were going to have the problem with those darn claim jumpers from CA! Wasn't it the Cheech Marin film that left town because two other films were being filmed at the same time (asylum/?). And its going to take a lot more than these incentives to bolster the film industry here. Take Austin TX. They pumped millions into a studio city to attract the industry and it worked.