Sunday, September 1, 2013

Why is TFIOS not shot in Indianapolis?

We all know that TFIOS is mostly set in Indianapolis. So why is it not shot there? David Lindquist wrote an article about that for the Indystar:

In a world where Illinois and Ohio are big players in the movie industry, Indiana is barely in the game. Mercenary filmmakers go where the deals are, and 39 states offer tax incentives to production crews. Indiana isn’t one of those states.

In the coming months, Pittsburgh will stand in for Indianapolis in “The Fault in Our Stars,” while Massachusetts towns will represent fictional Carlinville, Ind., in Robert Downey Jr.’s film “The Judge.”

Coming to the 2014 Indiana General Assembly: A lobbying group that insists a new law is the only thing that stands between the Hoosier state and Hollywood gold.

Novelist John Green spent the past week on the set of “The Fault in Our Stars,” the film adaptation of his novel that’s sold about 1 million copies since its publication in January 2012.

Despite the book’s plot, in which two Indianapolis teens meet in a support group for cancer patients and fall in love, producers Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen of “Twilight” series fame selected Pittsburgh as the site for filming (plus an upcoming visit to Amsterdam).

Why Pennsylvania? The state offers a tax credit expected to put 10 percent to 15 percent of additional financing into the movie’s budget, Green said. Indiana has no such program. 

Using a hypothetical budget of $10 million, here’s how Pennsylvania's production incentive works:
After spending $10 million in the state, a film might have $8 million of its expenditures deemed eligible for a 25 percent transferable tax credit. Because a visiting production company typically doesn’t have $2 million in tax liabilities in the state, its credit can be sold, in the form of a certificate, to a Pennsylvania-based corporation that does — perhaps for 80 percent of face value.

So, filmmakers head back to California with $1.6 million they wouldn’t have if cameras had rolled in a non-incentive state.

Green expressed frustration at Indiana's inability to compete. “I wish this movie could be filmed in Indianapolis, because I think it would be great for the city,” Green said. “But as soon as it was explained to me, I understood there was just no other way. It just wasn’t possible.”

References to Indiana won’t be scrubbed from the big-screen version of “The Fault in Our Stars.” Lead actor Ansel Elgort wore a Pacers jersey (a Rik Smits jersey, to be specific) during Monday’s opening day of filming. Even “Funky Bones,” the 39-foot by 69-foot sculpture at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100 Acres art and nature park, will stick around as a memorable landmark. Well, make that a replica of “Funky Bones.”

Green said that filmmakers consulted with the sculpture’s creator, Dutch artist Joep Van Lieshout, to fabricate a “Funky Bones” in Pittsburgh. “To contextualize the size of the budget difference, it’s far, far cheaper to recreate a very expensive work of art from scratch than it is to just film in Indianapolis,” Green said.

Before the era of film-related tax incentives, which began in 1991 in Louisiana, Indiana boasted 1979’s “Breaking Away” and 1986’s “Hoosiers” as local stories made into popular films in the state. Through the 1990s, “Rudy,” “A League of Their Own” and “Blue Chips” included scenes shot in Indiana.

Back in the 1958, Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Dean Martin made a movie titled “Some Came Running” in Madison, Ind. A Walk of Fame plaque still commemorates the film in downtown Madison, a tribute that caught the eye of Indiana-based filmmaker Benjamin Dewhurst when he recently worked in the Ohio River town.

Dewhurst is part of the executive committee for the Indiana Media Production Alliance, the lobbying group seeking approval of film-industry tax incentives when the state legislature returns to work in January.

He’s disappointed that “The Fault in Our Stars” is being filmed elsewhere. For “The Judge,” an upcoming movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, tax incentives in Massachusetts equal to 25 cents for every new dollar of spending brought to the state snared a story set in fictional Carlinville, Ind.

The (Springfield, Mass.) Republican reported that “The Judge” crew hung a large banner advertising the “Crawford County Summer Blueberry Festival” in Shelburne Falls, Mass. Indiana is home to a Crawford County, while Massachusetts is not.

“That’s Hoosier pride that’s just going out the window,” Dewhurst said.

An economic argument
But the ability to lure film and TV productions to Indiana is about more than bragging rights and artistic authenticity, sound technician Chuck Budreau said.

Budreau, a member of Indiana Media Production Alliance’s executive committee and the film coordinator for Gen Con Indy, said tax incentives can translate into an economic boom.

“We want to build an industry,” Budreau said. “It’s nice to build the artistic things, and they will come along with it. But the main thing is, we want an industry that will create local jobs and not just bring people in from California to shoot films here.”

IMPA’s proposed legislation includes a 30 percent rebate or refundable tax credit on expenditures and non-resident labor, with minimum spending of $50,000. An additional 10 percent rebate or credit is tied to the hiring of Indiana-based crew members. And a 5 percent rebate or credit is tied to Indiana stories or filming that’s done in economically depressed areas.

Rebates or credits wouldn’t exceed 40 percent per project. The annual cap for all projects would be $25 million, and no project could earn more than $7.5 million. IMPA also wants the legislation to have no expiration date, unlike an Indiana tax incentive that applied to films made between July 2008 and December 2011.

Budreau said IMPA surveyed 160 film-industry workers when putting together the proposal. He added that present incentives in Illinois, a 30 percent credit on productions and a 30 percent credit on local salaries, provided a basic framework for the plan.

Film productions generated $184 million in spending in Illinois in 2012, according to state officials. TV productions generated $92 million.

“Divergent,” a highly anticipated sci-fi film starring “The Fault in Our Stars” lead actress Shailene Woodley, was made in Chicago earlier this year.

“Indiana gets overlooked simply because we can’t offer that benefit of a tax incentive,” said IMPA president Glenn Pratt.

What can filmmakers do with money that comes back from incentives?
“You’re able to put it toward your post-production, your marketing and distribution or pay back your investors,” said Pratt, a 2010 Ball State University graduate who works as a production coordinator for commercial and independent projects.

Past struggles
Indiana’s previous tax incentive for film production offered a 15 percent credit. The Media Production Expenditure Tax Credit was debated for three years and went into effect only after the state legislature overturned a veto by then Gov. Mitch Daniels. At the time, Daniels said the measure gave away too much cash to low-budget projects that would be made in Indiana regardless, and he added that a large portion of the “subsidies would not lead to a single new job or purchase in our state.”

Few projects of any size were filmed in Indiana between mid-2008 and the beginning of 2012. IMPA has the tally at seven films with budgets exceeding $1 million.

“(The tax incentive) was very minimally used,” said Erin Schneider, director of Film Indiana, an initiative that’s part of Indiana Economic Development Corporation. “I think that’s because of what was going on around us at the time. Michigan was incredibly aggressive.”

Tax credits in Michigan topped out at 42 percent of a production’s expenditures, and the state approved $115 million in rebates in 2010. A year later, Michigan legislators set a $25 million ceiling for rebates and Hollywood grew less enamored with the Mitten State.

Critics of film-related tax incentives aren’t difficult to find.

In 2010, states committed about $1.5 billion to subsidizing film and TV production, “money that they otherwise could have spent on public services like education, health care, public safety, and infrastructure,” according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit group that evaluates state fiscal policies.

Even “The Fault in Our Stars” author Green said he has a “complicated relationship” with tax incentives.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” said Green, who’s lived in Indianapolis since 2007. “I certainly understand why someone would want to stand up and say, ‘If you want to do work here, you should pay taxes here.’ But we’re never going to have those kinds of big productions unless we can compete with the likes of Pennsylvania.”

Thanks a lot to David Lindquist!

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