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Will State Film Incentives End Up On Budget Cutting Room Floor?

Hansi Lo Wang

There's a new cable TV series set in Seattle, and it's called "The Killing."

Sound bite of show: "Hey! Seattle PD. We're looking for a Stanley Larsen. You his wife?"

If you caught the first episode this past weekend, you may have noticed the aerial shots of downtown and the Space Needle. But most of the scenes were shot in Vancouver, BC. That's something the local film industry hopes to change. KUOW's Hansi Lo Wang has more.


So why is a TV series that's set in Seattle not shooting most of the show in Seattle? It's because of a tug–of–war between the city and Vancouver, BC.

James Keblas: "The reason that we lost at the end was the fact that the film incentive program was up for renewal."

That's James Keblas of the city's Office of Film and Music. He works with filmmakers who want to shoot in Seattle. And he says the uncertain future of Washington's film incentives drove away the TV show's producers. He and other local film industry advocates worry more productions will be driven away if the program isn't renewed this month by lawmakers in Olympia.

Amy Lillard: "The decision is, do we want a film industry in Washington, or do we not?"

Amy Lillard runs Washington Film Works. That's the nonprofit created to manage the state's Motion Picture Competiveness Program.

"Competitiveness" is in the title because Washington is competing with 43 other states to attract filmmakers to make movies and TV shows. Lillard's office offers cash rebates of up to 30 percent of a production's investment to filmmakers who shoot in the state.

It's a program that's brought in more jobs for local actors like Rik Deskin of Kirkland. You may have seen him in short films and commercials as —

Deskin: "Man in elevator, newspaper teacher, the psychiatrist. Basically, I do whatever I'm hired to do."

Deskin says when producers of "The Killing" decided to use Vancouver as a stand–in for Seattle, it cost him a possible job.

Deskin: "If it was shot in Seattle, then the local casting directors would be casting locals. And there are a lot of talented actors that are ready, ready to be on film, ready to be on TV. And we're not getting those opportunities because production keeps going to Vancouver."

But some say state–funded film incentives are bad policy. One of those critics is Robert Tannenwald. He's with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank in Washington, DC. Tannenwald conducted a nationwide study of state programs that offer tax subsidies to film productions.

Now, advocates for film incentives say when a film crew rolls into a neighborhood, there are economic boosts in tourism and local service industries. But Tannenwald says —

Tannenwald: "You can talk about the ripple effects of film subsidies and film production. But people then don't talk about the foregone ripple effects of cut programs that serve the public."

Amy Lillard of Washington Film Works says it's hard to make a case for subsidizing moviemaking in this economic climate.

Lillard: "There are a lot of challenges in Olympia right now. I think the big challenge is the 5.3–billion–dollar budget shortfall. That's what I think is the big problem. It's a big challenge."

Right now, the bill to renew the state's program is stuck in committee. And if it's not passed by the end of the legislative session, film production incentives in Washington may end up on the budget cutting room floor.

For KUOW News, I'm Hansi Lo Wang.

© Copyright 2011, KUOW

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