ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota film tax credit bills could bring movie, TV production boom to Northland

The bills would create an incentive for producers to film TV shows and movies in Minnesota by offering a transferable tax credit on purchases made in the state for production.

FILE 011321.N.DNT.COUNTYFILM.C04.jpg
Matthew Koshmrl (center), a filmmaker and cinematographer, gives direction to students setting up a shot during a film class Jan. 6, 2021, at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm. Koshmrl is teaching a generation of visual storytellers on the Iron Range and in Duluth. St. Louis County has committed up to $1 million for filmmaking incentives. (Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com)
We are part of The Trust Project.

Could Duluth become the next Hollywood?

Maybe, if bipartisan film tax credit bills pass in the Minnesota House and Senate this year to incentivize production companies to choose the state as a filming location.

The proposed incentive would create a transferable tax credit of up to 25% on in-state purchases for production of movies and TV shows. More than 30 other states currently have some sort of film incentive in place, which is a huge motivator when production companies plan where to shoot projects.

“An incentive program like a film credit is the only way to build a thriving industry in Minnesota because so many other states and countries have implemented film credits,” Sen. David Tomassoni, of Chisholm, an author of the Senate bill SF 1986, said during a Senate tax committee meeting Thursday morning. “Due to their success, it’s now a necessary condition for attracting large projects.”

Philip Gilpin, executive director and CEO of Catalyst Story Institute in Duluth, said the company moved to Duluth in 2018 because it looked like the state was close to getting this incentive. A colleague of Gilpin’s at HBO told him that if Minnesota had film incentives, he would’ve chosen to shoot $100 million worth of productions here in 2019.

ADVERTISEMENT

St. Louis County’s board of commissioners passed a similar film incentive in December , creating a rebate of up to 25% in the county and 20% on the Iron Range for expenditures made in the areas during filmmaking. It's been used as an example at the state level to show how much of a difference the incentive makes in location selection.

RELATED STORIES:

  • 'Hockeyland' movie goes inside Hermantown, Eveleth-Gilbert teams Northland Films followed the high school boys' hockey teams through a plot-heavy season and launched a Kickstarter to put finishing touches on the film.
  • 'Local artists, local stories': Film industry takes shape on Iron Range By bringing an educational workshop to the Minnesota Discovery Center, documentary filmmaker Matt Koshmrl is opening up the medium to a new cast of creative locals.
  • St. Louis County adopts filmmaking incentive program The County Board dedicated $500,000 to be used to reimburse film and television productions up to 25% on money spent locally.

Commissioner Frank Jewell, who represents downtown Duluth and supported the county incentive, said he is a wholehearted supporter of the statewide incentive because of the amount of jobs the film industry would support by bringing people to stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and employ carpenters or electricians for sets. It would also create hundreds of new jobs in the area.
Brian Simpson, who represents Minnesota film and TV crews for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said the current labor pool in Minnesota is not big enough to support the number of jobs these productions would create, which would mean more people could be trained to join the workforce. These jobs, he said to the Senate tax committee, are impossible to automate, and would come with full benefits, training and equipment certification.

“It is sometimes said that film and TV is nothing but temp jobs, but we are just as temporary as the construction industry in that we are a project-based industry,” Simpson said. “We are not temp jobs.”

Right now, the state is losing these jobs because production companies are choosing to film in other states with incentives, like Georgia, taking the workforce and millions of dollars with them.

Duluth native Van Hayden, who is now a first assistant director, has worked on more than 90 movies and TV shows in his 32 years in the film industry.

“Unfortunately, because of the lack of tax incentives in Minnesota, all but two of those 90 feature films or TV series, I’ve had to go out of state to work on,” Hayden said to the Senate tax committee. “I would love to bring production back to Minnesota.”

Former Sen. Dick Cohen said Minnesota has the strongest secondary acting market outside of New York and Los Angeles, and has the second-highest amount of theaters per capita, behind New York. Using local actors will save production companies money on lodging and flying people to the set, plus the state has more accessible filming destinations.

ADVERTISEMENT

“You can have a production office in the city of Minneapolis and 45 minutes later you’re on a farm,” Cohen said to the Senate tax committee. “‘Grumpy Old Men’ is the best example of that. 1995. Production office was in Minneapolis; the interior shooting was done at Paisley Park in Chanhassen; and the exterior shooting was done at Lake City. You cannot duplicate that in a place like Manhattan, LA or even Atlanta.”

In the Northland, training for production jobs is already underway. Riki McManus, chief production officer at the Upper Midwest Film Office in Duluth, said filming projects are already planned for Duluth, the Iron Range, and along the North Shore this year. Workshops, like one for lighting technician training at Hibbing Community College, are preparing a workforce as more productions are anticipated to come to the area.

Gilpin said the jobs will be accessible, since they don’t require a college degree and training is available locally through Catalyst or the Upper Midwest Film Office. People interested in joining the creative sector won’t have to move to New York or California to be in TV or movies — they can come to Duluth instead.

McManus said if the state adds an incentive on top of the St. Louis County incentive, the area could be one of the hottest filming destinations in the state. The cities of Maple Lake and Austin are the only other places in the state with incentives in place, offering 15% and 10% rebates, respectively.

“Here in Duluth, we are seeing tremendous interest in this area,” Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said in testimony to the Senate tax committee Thursday morning. “Part of it is that Duluth is so beautiful. Part of it is that we have this incredible workforce. Part of it is that we have this amazing geography. It’s deep and rich and tells a beautiful story.”

As filming begins to ramp up again after being halted by the pandemic, there are more stories than ever just waiting to be told. Larson said Minnesota should be a place the backlog of productions want to go to tell those stories.

Iron Range Rep. Dave Lislegard is an author of the House bill HF 1975. He said his role as an extra in the Iron Range film “North Country” opened his eyes to the issue, when production of the film moved from Minnesota to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to chase a tax credit incentive.

“The story that changed the lives of so many people in this country that started in a certain location in Minnesota had to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico because of a film credit,” Lislegard said. “This last year has ripped this country — this world — apart for so many different reasons. But right here in the state of Minnesota, we’ve had a situation, a travesty, that the whole world is watching. And at some point they’re going to tell that story. We want that story to be told here.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The bills have been introduced to House and Senate tax committees.

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
What to read next
Find something to do this week in the Northland.
Carol Marsh has been competing in the Minnesota State Fair for a decade, but she recently applied her baking skills to an online contest to become "The Greatest Baker."
The show runs through Dec. 18 at the NorShor Theatre.
Everyone in the Northland region is being encouraged to read the collection of Ojibwe tales and lessons told from the perspective of an elder wolf.