No Incentives Costs Idaho Movie Money

SANDPOINT – There is a big push across Idaho to get more of the Gem State on the big screen.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would give film makers incentives to make movies in Idaho. Right now, 45 states, including Washington, have film incentives, which have proven to pump millions of dollars back into the economy.

A film maker would have to spend money in Idaho to get money back. But, it’s not just for Hollywood, as supporters of this bill say it will create more jobs for Idahoans.

Dante’s Peak put Wallace, Idaho on the big screen. The movie, starring Pierce Brosnon and Linda Hamilton, was shot in the small town for an entire summer, using hundreds of local extras for the volcano eruption scene and spending millions of dollars on food, hotel rooms and supplies.

More than 10 years later, Idaho is out of focus. Movie producers and directors are pointng their cameras in another direction

“It is a sad thing,” says Sandpoint film maker Trevor Greenfield. “Without money, there’s no…there is no movies. Movies cost.”

It’s not the snow dusted mountains or the crystal clear water keeping Hollywood away. It’s all about the money, a lot of money. Millions and millions of dollars worth.

To make a movie more affordable, producers shoot in states offering meaningful incentives, such as rebates and tax breaks. Currently, 45 states offer hefty incentives, but Idaho isn’t one of them.

“It’s very competitve and they don’t ask, ‘What kind of locations do you have,’ as they did seven or eight or nine years ago,” says Russ Simons. “They ask, ‘What kind of incentives do you have?'”

Simons is a former Disney executive and is on the Idaho Film Advisory Board. For the second year in a row, he is pushing legislation to create more incentives.

House Bill 592 would require film makers to spend a certain amount and hire a percentage of Idahoans before they’re reimbursed 20 percent of production costs. A similar bill failed last year. It’s unclear where the rebate money would come from.

“Not having incentives in the state of Idaho has hurt in many ways,” says W.J. Lazerus.

Lazerus is the founder of KNIFVES or Kootenai-North Idaho’s Film, Video and Entertainment Society. He’s backing the bill because he’s knows first hand the revenue lost because of no incentives.

When Gary Marshall, director of Georgia Rule, starring Lindsey Lohan, was looking for a shooting location, he met up with Lazerus.

“He flew in to Spokane, went to Wallace, checked out Coeur d’Alene,” Lazerus says. “He wanted to shoot in northern Idaho, but when he found out there weren’t incentives to help out with the production costs, they went ahead and shot Idaho at a lake above Hollywood down in Los Angeles.”

A small town that’s supposed to be in Idaho is nowhere near Idaho. In fact, it’s about 1,200 miles away from the Gem State.

Trevor Greenfield started the Lakedance Film Festival in Sandpoint. He says the bill also helps local talent.

“We’ve got a lot of people here, of varying levels of expertese in the industry,” he says, “that, they want to work on big productions.”

Greenfield says the money spent by filmakers affects everyone, even if you don’t watch movies.

“They go to restaurants,” he says, “those restaurants employ the waiters, the waiters see business and tips, in the middle of the winter, possibly, when there is no tourist season, when business is slow.”

Dante’s Peak pumped $12 million back in the local economy. Preston, Idaho, the backdrop for Napoleon Dynamite, now has a Dynamite Days festival, attracting hundreds of tourists every year.

The worldwide exposure could however come with a price. Many people move to Idaho to escape the big city crowds. Some fear more screen time could mean more people moving to the area, giving away Idaho’s hidden gems.

“The negative side is,” Greenfield says, “if there is not a solid understanding in the permitting process, in the communication process and in working with the local businesses and that kind of thing.”

Teenage Dirtbag, a true story about two teens at Coeur d’Alene High School, was the last feature film to be made in Idaho. It was shot in Coeur d’Alene this past summer. Lazerus hopes it’s not the last.

The next few days will be crucial for this legislation. If it doesn’t pass, some will be calling it a wrap.

“If it doesn’t happen, there will be no films that come to this state,” says Greenfield, “and I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s the truth.”

The bill passed the House Commerce Committee Wednesday with a 6-4 vote.

One representative who voted against it argued one of Idaho’s most successful movies, Napoleon Dynamite, didn’t need incentives. The full house will vote on the bill next week.