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It’s too silent afer ‘Dynamite’

For Idaho filmmakers and other media types, it’s all too quiet on the set.

They want action, but first they need a script. At a Friday meeting in Post Falls of the state’s Film Task Force, members struggled for the words that would capture one very tough audience — the Idaho Legislature.

The task force, composed mostly of industry representatives and legislators, has prepared two draft bills. One would rebate sales tax on items like materials purchased for set construction. The second would rebate or credit payroll taxes on wages paid in Idaho. Other states have adopted a variety of incentives for the film and television industries, and producers have been very responsive.

In Oregon, for example, four film and TV productions “incentivized” by the state are in various stages of production. The goodies include a 10 percent rebate of up to $250,000 on in-state production expenditures, rebate of the employer’s 6.2 percent payroll tax, and a rebate to vendors that offer production companies a 10 percent discount on goods and services. By law, the incentives must be revenue-neutral. Bob Schmaling, project manager for the Oregon Film and Video Office, estimates the $1 million for production rebates in 2005 will generate $12 million in industry spending.

Inquiring producers used to politely hang up when told Oregon had no incentives, he says. No more.

Montana, too, has begun offering rebates on labor and production expenditures.

Task force member and Boise-based film maker A.J. Eaton says those are the two states with which Idaho should try to compete. The state cannot hope to match incentives offered by Illinois, Louisiana and New Mexico, let alone Canada, which has become Hollywood North. The only hope of competing with Vancouver, he says, is the continuing erosion of the exchange rate for U.S. currency. But the state must be as aggressive as possible, he says. “If we’re going to do this, we need to do it right.”

Right, first of all, in order to create more jobs.

Task force member Russ Simons quotes U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections that employment in film, TV and associated industries will increase 31 percent by 2012, compared with a 12 percent increase for all industries. The former contract administrator for The Walt Disney Co., who now lives in Rathdrum, wants an incentive package that will lead to the creation of 1,500 jobs in Idaho, and result in $10 million in industry investment. That could be just the tip of the iceberg, he says, but to get there the industry must generate some excitement about its prospects.

The over-the-moon success of “Napoleon Dynamite,” the ultra low-budget film shot in tiny Preston, went a long way toward driving that message home, and was to a large extent the explosion that prompted Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to appoint the task force. Wallace, too, experienced a boom with the filming of “Dante’s Peak” in 1997.

Co-chair Jana Kemp, a state representative from Boise, says too many Idahoans involved in media production have to work outside the state to earn a living. With a little help from the state, all the grips, gaffers, producers, directors and what-have-you can begin to coalesce into an industry sinking roots all over Idaho, the Panhandle included.

Count in JoAnne Joyce of Hayden, who put 20-plus years into the industry in California before a disability and family brought her home to the Inland Northwest. A jack-of-all-trades specializing in staging food and non-food for the cameras, Joyce made a passionate plea for a chance to put her skills to work again.

“Give me back everything that I love and I’ll give you my heart and soul,” she told the task force.

The task force shares Joyce’s enthusiasm, but has to deal with lawmakers whose passion is low taxes. Hayden Lake Rep. Jim Clark, not a task force member, says he would like to help the industry, “but what’s it going to cost?

“The big issue will be the fiscal note.”

Kemp, who in conjunction with Kempthorne’s office, the Tax Commission and other officials is preparing estimates of the possible economic effects, knows it will take some selling. The proposed 10 percent income tax credit or rebate would return to a production company more than it pays in taxes, with the expectation that multipliers from industry expenditures will more than offset that lost revenue. Other states make the same calculation.

“I think Idaho should do its fair share to grow the industry,” Kemp says.

The task force’s work, like a good movie, will have to be very compelling.