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VOL. 127 | NO. 137 | Monday, July 16, 2012

Film Industry Can’t Count on Incentives

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The discussion about film and video production incentives has come a long way from the days when incentives meant pile up the cash and push it across the table at the folks from Hollywood.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was lobbied hard when he was a candidate in 2010 to match what Louisiana was doing in film incentives. And to his credit, he took a hard line saying Tennessee shouldn’t get caught up in what amounted to an arms race for film and television production.

The recurring revenue stream to incentivize film production in the state is a sensible move to keep the pool of state money at about the same level.

Meanwhile, there should be local incentives to encourage the growth of a production foundation. The current state incentives seem geared toward smaller productions that could make better use of that base and help grow it more than the blockbuster movie that comes along every few years.

Those kinds of movies are fun and leave us with great stories to tell. If you are one of those who just discovered Andy Griffith’s 1957 masterpiece “A Face In The Crowd,” you may know that parts of the film were shot in Memphis.

Most of it, though, was shot at Biograph Studios in the Bronx. And most of what was shot here didn’t make it into the film. And that’s frequently the real story about films that roll into the city after much talk of how the world is going to at last discover Memphis and the price we have paid in incentives for that very brief identification.

What is more reliable and better ultimately for the creative stock of the city is the creation of a production community that works closer to the ground and on a regular basis right here in Memphis. It a base for an industry on a non-smokestack or warehouse scale.

The moviemakers who come here pay well and that is one argument for trying to line up as many visiting productions as we can. But without a creative infrastructure made durable and reliable by continuing work on corporate videos, advertising, smaller scale creative endeavors and everything in between, those making the real money when such productions come to town will always be those who come here just for the duration of the shoot.

Tennessee is a state that doesn’t have an income tax and there is no political will for one in the foreseeable future. That means the money made by those who come here for the length of an out of town production take much, if not all, of it with them.

When Hollywood comes to town, Memphis is a backdrop just like any other place in the service of telling a story. That’s not a complaint. It’s a fact of life.

When the cameras and equipment are packed up there ought to be more left than a listing in the credits at the end.

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