June 01--Minnesota's stagnant film industry is banking on the biggest influx of state money ever to woo the movies back.
The state has given $10 million to the Minnesota Film and TV board for its Snowbate program, which uses rebates to lure film projects here.
The windfall, more than twice as much as was spent to attract films to the state in a recent four-year period, means that Minnesota once again can compete for Hollywood money and create jobs for local film and TV professionals, said Lucinda Winter, the board's executive director.
The sum is available over two years, beginning July 1. While it's not enough to draw such blockbusters as an "Iron Man" or "Hunger Games" sequel, she said, "it puts us back in the game to land small to midsize movies like 'Magic Mike' or 'Silver Linings Playbook.' "
Minnesota was a pioneer in offering moviemaking incentives, beginning in 1997. Now, all but 12 states have them. Many, including Michigan, Illinois and Louisiana, offer much sweeter pots, with heftier rebates and tax credits.
Even projects set in Minnesota, most recently the TV series based on the movie "Fargo," often are enticed away by Canada and its better deals.
The $10 million enhances Minnesota's appeal, particularly in the Upper Midwest. Of adjacent states, only Wisconsin has an incentive program, and it totals just $500,000.
The money will come from the $89 million general-fund omnibus bill signed May 23 by Gov. Mark Dayton to boost jobs, economic growth and housing. The allocation had support on both sides of the aisle, said Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the Finance Committee.
"Over the years, when I looked at the incentive moneys being used by the film board, it was clear there was immediate and significant impact," said Cohen, a senator since 1987.
He then ticked off Minnesota's advantages as if he were pitching a producer himself.
"We've got a great secondary acting pool and crews second only to Chicago," he said. "We've got seasons, if you want that. And the Twin Cities [area] is easy to get around, with lakes and farms only 30 minutes away."
The film board paid out $4.6 million to film and video projects from 2007 to 2011, Winter said, but attracted $28 million in private spending in the state in return, half of which was wages to Minnesota residents.
The Snowbate program began in 1997, during a decade when major films including "Grumpy Old Men" and "Jingle All the Way" brought $90 million in revenue to Minnesota. Cut by Jesse Ventura in 2002 and reinstated in 2006, the most Snowbate had previously received was $2.6 million in 2008.
Rebates increase to 25%
Part of the added draw for filmmakers is an increase in the maximum amount of a rebate from 15 percent of production dollars spent in the state to 25 percent, a figure on par with states such as Michigan, which lured the Minnesota-set Clint Eastwood film "Gran Torino" five years ago, and Illinois, which offers a tax credit of 30 percent.
On top of the new 25 percent rebate, any movie shot on Minnesota's Iron Range would receive another perk. The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, which saw the economic benefits the region reaped when the film "North Country" was shot there in 2004, last year approved a fund that will repay filmmakers 20 percent of production expenses spent on the Range, on top of the state rebate.
Minnesota's $10 million is "a good starting point," said Joe Chianese, an executive with Entertainment Partners, a production-services provider for the movie industry that keeps track of incentives offered all over the world. "For someone wanting a Midwestern locale, this is great news," he said. "If I have a client who says, 'I want snow. Where should I go?' there's another choice besides Canada and Utah."
The cash rebate being offered under the program differs from most states' primary incentives, which are tax credits. Many filmmakers prefer rebates because they are more immediate, Chianese said.
The $10 million deal also includes shifting oversight of the film board from the Office of Tourism to the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
That's fine with Andrew Peterson, director of IFP Minnesota, who also advocated for Snowbate before the Legislature. "Making art is a great byproduct of this, but this is first about return on investment and job creation," he said.
No big players have bit yet, Winter said, but "the phone's been ringing. This level of funding can easily attract the kind of productions we used to have here."
Kristin Tillotson --612-673-7046
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