Alexander Payne: Film incentives would be boon for Nebraskans- OWH Op Ed
I am an enthusiastic supporter of the recently introduced Legislative Bill 1073, which would enact economic film incentives in Nebraska.
Of course, I have selfish motives, since I plan to shoot more feature films here and don't want the burden of having to sell the idea to financiers. But as a Nebraskan, I could never endorse such an idea if I did not think it would benefit our state both economically and culturally.
The simple fact of the matter is that financiers today apply unbearable pressure for filming to occur only in states with some incentives, even modest ones.
Currently, I'm producing a movie called “Cedar Rapids,” which was going to film last fall in Iowa but was forced to move to Michigan when Iowa rescinded its offer of incentives.
I also am planning to make a film in Nebraska in 2011. I might be able to browbeat financiers into letting me shoot here without incentives in place, and if I succeed, it will be because of only two things: the clout I have that other directors might not, and the relatively modest budget of the film.
But I predict tremendous resistance, since it's difficult to justify to investors the extra expense when they will argue that an average audience cannot tell the difference between a film shot in Nebraska and one shot in Iowa or Oklahoma. And they won't care that I would like the money generated by my film to go into the pockets of Nebraskans.
As for the question of state expenditures balancing favorably with projected incoming revenue, I agree that any initial plan should be on the conservative side so as to test the waters and let experience be our guide. But what we are incapable of predicting are the far-reaching and unforeseeable windfalls. We cast lines into the water not knowing exactly what fish we will catch.
My own film, “Sideways,” revolutionized Santa Barbara County, Calif., and continues to unfurl millions and millions of tourist dollars into local pockets. Of course, that's an unusual case, but think of the tourism in our own backyard when fans flocked to South Dakota after “Dances With Wolves” and to Iowa after “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Then there are all the local technicians who would receive employment and training from the experience of film production — a process that snowballs into luring more films into the state. I'm also thinking of aspiring Nebraska film directors who might want to follow my example and tell Nebraska stories, both contemporary and historical.
Our thinking on this matter must not be limited to “Hollywood” but should always include local commercial and narrative filmmakers as important beneficiaries.
Nebraska has produced an astonishing amount of filmmaking talent over the years — Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando, Harold Lloyd, Montgomery Clift, Darryl Zanuck, Nick Nolte, etc.
Furthermore, Omaha and Lincoln have in recent years witnessed an explosion of the arts. We owe it to ourselves and to our young people to keep abreast of the times and encourage the local flowering of the most popular art form of our times, the cinema.
As long as the plan we adopt is at least revenue-neutral, film incentives are the right thing to do. The benefits, both economic and cultural, would accrue in beautiful and surprising ways.
By Alexander Payne
The writer, an Omaha native, is an award-winning screenwriter and film director.
Published Feb 23, 2010, Omaha World Herald