Minnesota is no stranger to the big trucks and bigger bucks of the film and television industry. In Duluth alone, "The Louie Show" TV series was based here in 1996, the movie "You'll Like My Mother" was filmed at Glensheen in the early '70s, and Disney's "Iron Will" pretty much took over the city for filming in the winter of 1993, as just three examples.
The state and industry are right now at an apparent crossroads, however. And what lawmakers in St. Paul decide to do this session with legislation to create a film and TV tax credit could go a long way toward determining which direction the relationship goes.
"Basically the Legislature is deciding: Do they just want the television and film production industry to be small-time in Minnesota? Or do they want it to be a $10 billion annual (economic) driver," Philip Gilpin, director of Catalyst, an annual gathering of executives, directors, producers, and others - with its festival this year scheduled for Duluth in October - said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page.
"The legislation is the key to the difference between whether or not upper Minnesota, northern Minnesota, attracts a couple of small productions that, you know, will bring in people temporarily (and) mostly outside labor. Or will we attract major productions that create hundreds of jobs on the ground and bring in tens if not hundreds, if not billions, of dollars a year in terms of a year-round industry?" Gilpin said. "This is a huuuuge, huge opportunity."
The legislation is in conference committee as part of the bigger tax bill. It has bipartisan support, including from Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, and Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, vice chairman of the House Tax Committee.
"Minnesota should seize this opportunity," Lislegard said in a statement to the Opinion page last week. "A strong film and TV incentive effort in Minnesota will mean the creation and attraction of substantial numbers of good-paying union jobs to Minnesota, and this will help secure a strong future for our economy."
"(Rep. Lislegard) was an extra in the movie "North Country" (which was filmed on the Iron Range), and he has seen firsthand the economic impact of the film industry. TV is even better because they come back year after year," Jeff Anderson of Duluth, a consultant and lobbyist for Catalyst, told the Opinion page last week. "Rep. Lislegard was recently in California meeting with studio executives about potential projects and the positive impact of the industry."
If the legislation doesn't happen this year, another attempt will be made next session - with momentum from the Catalyst event in Duluth this fall, Gilpin said.
"We're bringing television producers and creators to Duluth in October who are already interested in shooting here, who are already interested in bringing their jobs and money here. The question is, at what level do Duluth and Minnesota say yes?" Gilpin said. "(In October), when I put the governor and the legislators and other people physically in a room at Zeitgeist or in a room at the NorShor with 50 producers who all say that they each want to bring in tens of millions of (dollars' worth of) projects, I think that's when the eyes are going to open: 'Oh, this stuff was all real. This is real money sitting on our doorstep.'"
Film- and TV-production money is now going elsewhere, most notably to Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta, places without caps on tax credits. According to Gilpin, Georgia gave out $400 million to $500 million in tax credits last year - which generated $10 billion in revenue for state residents.
Minnesota currently has a rebate program to attract film and TV projects, but it's very limited with only $500,000 available annually. "No way Disney will shoot a $40 million film in Minnesota and HBO can't bring $150 million of "Game of Thrones" over seven years based off a $500,000-a-year incentive," Gilpin said.
All the more reason for the Legislature to create the proposed film and TV tax credit. It's a chance for Minnesota to cash in on an industry growing ever-more lucrative with the exploding popularity of streaming services and online outlets for creativity and entertainment. We can stop letting its riches go elsewhere.
For more information about the annual Catalyst Content Festival and its stop in Duluth in October, go to catalystcontent.org/catalyst-content-festival