Thursday, March 06, 2008

SC Film Incentives, part 2

Please see part 1 below.
This is sound guy and good friend, Tony. Love his shirt picturing the big fish made up of small fishes about to devour the fish who thinks he's big.

My final weeks at Commerce, when not on the phone tying to explain what was going on in SC to producers (previously) interested in shooting here, were spent analyzing details of money spent by films in SC. At the same time, Joe Taylor refused to approve an outside study analyzing the same numbers, saying he wanted to keep the analysis in house rather than at the University of South Carolina.

The research office was one floor up from my office. I went upstairs and asked the person working on the data if I could help decipher what it meant, as film can be a bit challenging to understand (i.e., what does a best boy electric do? why do you need C-47's in lots of 1000, do we have film makeup trailers in SC? etc). The researcher said my help wouldn’t matter, that Joe Taylor didn't allow him to do "real" research. If the numbers were not what he wanted to see, he said Joe Taylor would revise his question until the numbers were what he wanted. This researcher was burning up his vacation time looking for another, what he called "more ethical" job.

One of my favorite "results" from the Joe Taylor approved research was his claim to Governor Sanford that film professionals wages average $8-$10 an hour. This was far different than what I saw on the same spreadsheets his research department used, so I tried my hand at Taylor math.

Some film techs and production personnel work both pre and post production, some work only production proper, some day play. If you take all the film technicians, and all the extras (background talent) and the police officers that come in for the one day big scene and so forth, and assume they ALL work every day of the entire show, and then divide all those salaries by the number of days on the show, you may come close to that per hour salary.

Or, you might just sit back and say, hmmmmm.

When I told a fellow film technician about Taylor's average film wages, he responded, "I'm sure Sanford didn't believe that line, I charged him WAY more than that on his last political campaign ad."

I think rock bottom of the union scale for a film tech is around $22.50 an hour. There are at least 2 hours a day at time and a half as well. Double time after 10 hours, which is a normal shoot day, but many film projects go over. That doesn't even take into account retirement benefits, workman's comp, social security, golden pay on the sixth day and meal penalties.

In other words, our film industry is not in danger of being overrun by desperate, non-documented workers, unless it is SC film techs sneaking into Canada so we can find work.

Another Joe Taylor saying was, “I can fly over Columbia dropping money out of a helicopter and have more impact than these film incentives.”

Well, after weeks of refusals, Joe Taylor decided he better hand over the raw data we had been analyzing to the legislators requesting it. The data was analyzed by a group at the University of South Carolina. Their findings were announced at a press conference I attended last week. Here is a quote from The State newspaper. The photo shows Army Wives producer Barbara Del-I-can't-spell-asandro attending the press conference. Army Wives was allowed to maintain the intended incentive package. They shoot in Charleston.

At the height of South Carolina’s film incentive program in 2006-2007, seven movies created about $25 million in total economic impact for the state, according to a USC study released Tuesday.
South Carolina’s benefits from the financial incentives given to film production companies outweighed the costs to the state, the study concluded.

I want to be under that helicopter. With Joe Taylor in charge or our state’s commerce development, who needs the lottery?

To support the Film Incentive Bill H 4815, currently in the SC House, please contact your representative.

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.