Iron Range board aims to attract filmsThe Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board on Thursday will be asked to approve financial incentives to movie producers willing to shoot their films in Northeastern Minnesota.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board on Thursday will be asked to approve financial incentives to movie producers willing to shoot their films in Northeastern Minnesota.
IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich is asking the board to enact a new “Film Production Incentive Program” of up to 20 percent for each film’s expenses, with a cap of $500,000 per production. The program would be capped at $800,000 for 2013.
Sertich said that investment could attract $8 million in spending from two feature films eyeing the Iron Range for production in 2013.
“They come to town and spend a lot of money in our main street stores that often aren’t eligible for some of the other programs we have out there. It’s about as direct economic development as you can get,” Sertich said Tuesday.
The IRRRB, the state agency that helps allocate taconite iron ore production taxes collected in lieu of property taxes, is more accustomed to spending money on recruiting heavy industry, tourism or high-tech business to the Iron Range to help diversify the economy. But Sertich contends that hosting a feature film production can have real economic impact.
The IRRRB rebate would come in addition to an ongoing state rebate of up to 20 percent reimbursement, called Snowbate, for producers to shoot their film in rural Minnesota. But it’s still far less than what other states are offering, said Lucinda Winter, executive director of Minnesota Film and TV, the state-sanctioned film production board. Minnesota most recently approved $1 million total to recruit films. Pennsylvania, for example, will spend up to $60 million in one year in tax credits to lure producers; Ohio has $40 million to spend.
There’s no risk, she noted, because the production companies have to spend the money before they get any rebate.
“There are 41 states that offer incentives for films, and Minnesota is at the bottom of the barrel. So anything the IRRRB can do will help bring production in,” Winter said. “For every dollar we put into these films, we see a direct return of at least $6, sometimes more … some small businesses — hardware stores and coffee shops — can see their year made in the weeks that these productions are under way.”
Typical shoots last from three weeks to four months, Winter said.
The Film Board last month confirmed that a feature-length film set on the Iron Range is scheduled to begin shooting in early 2013. “Thanksgiving at Denny’s” is a dramatic comedy about a bipolar Chicago-based computer programmer who loses his job and returns to his hometown to chase the girl he has been obsessed with since high school. The film will be produced by Washington Square Films and Griffin Productions.
Winter confirmed Tuesday that a second production company is eyeing the Range for a film, written by a Minnesotan and with a Minnesota producer who has made other films in the state.
“It’s a story that should take place in Minnesota; it’s a Minnesota plotline,” Winter said. “But that’s all I can say at this point.”
It’s not the first time the IRRRB has courted film producers. In 2005, the IRRRB approved a $200,000 rebate to the makers of “North Country,” the heralded movie starring Charlize Theron depicting the plight of women workers in the taconite industry in the 1970s and ’80s. State officials say the movie was partially filmed on the Range and had a $5 million impact on the state.
“The people who were around during the filming of ‘North Country’ really saw how much impact a big-time movie can have on the local businesses,” said Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, an IRRRB board member. “There’s a really good return here. There’s a good bang for the buck. And we get a little publicity for the region, too.”
Reimbursement for film expenses under the IRRRB program would be based on the state Film Production Jobs Program as overseen by the Minnesota Film and TV Board.
In addition to the expense rebate, IRRRB staff will coordinate a retailer’s discount program at local businesses and introduce the filmmakers to local people and potential filming locations as needed.
In other action Thursday, the board is expected to approve $7.8 million in public works grants for communities across the Iron Range.