Could Tax Money Bring Film Jobs to Nebraska?

Michelle Schrage and Mark Hoeger, both of the Nebraska Film Association, pose for a picture on the red carpet at a legislative reception hosted by the NFA. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
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April 26, 2013 - 6:30am

Government incentives have long been used to help foster business. There are incentives for farming, manufacturing, and retail. Now, a growing number of Nebraska residents are pushing for new incentives for film production.

On the top floor of the U.S. Bank Building, in the Nebraska Club, actors, producers, directors, and politicians fill a room.  After posing for a photo op on the red carpet, many grab a drink and begin discussing the latest film projects.

This is no Hollywood premiere, though. It’s a legislative reception hosted by the Nebraska Film Association. Events like these bring together Nebraska’s film aficionados and policymakers, in an effort to drum up support for Nebraska’s emerging film industry.

UPDATE, May 15, 2013: Watch a trailer from new Alexander Payne film "Nebraska"

A trailer for the new film from award-winning Nebraska native Alexander Payne has been released in advance of Cannes Film Festival. In this scene, a man approaches the father-son duo central to the film to demand money ... and reveal a secret.


Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

State Senator Colby Coash, of Lincoln, addresses the crowd at a legislative reception hosted by the Nebraska Film Association. As an actor himself, Coash says the economic impact a film can bring to a state can't be underestimated in today's market.

State Senator Colby Coash of Lincoln, an actor himself, is a strong supporter of the local film industry. After introducing his colleagues from the Legislature to the local film crowd, he begins discussing his desire for the state lawmakers to pass a film incentives bill, which would make it easier for local film makers to go to work.

“Lots of different industries want incentives in order to be competitive, and so what these folks are asking for is just to help [them] be competitive with our neighboring states,” Coash said, adding it could be a tall order, but it’s worth doing nonetheless.

It’s not like the Legislature hasn't done anything, though. Last session, lawmakers unanimously passed an amendment to the Local Option Municipality Economic Development Act, or LOMED. The measure allows cities to set aside four percent of every penny raised from sales taxes into a special fund. Film production companies can then apply for that money to help cover the cost of production.

 “That film and commercial production still has to compete with all the other economic development options, whether it’s getting a new paved road or a new roof on your community center, but it gives that control to that community,” Nebraska Film Association Vice President Michelle Schrage explained.

59 communities across Nebraska have a LOMED fund set up. Lincoln and Omaha do not.

When the north-central Nebraska city of Valentine tested the new program, a $5000 investment yielded a $50,000 expenditure in the community when filmmakers shot Aviation Cocktail there.

Other filmmakers hope to take advantage of LOMED in the near future.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

KDUH Noon Anchor Jerry Dishong prepares to deliver the news to Nebraska panhandle residents. Dishong has been working for KDUH in Scottsbluff for nearly 50 years, and is the subject of an upcoming documentary.

Jerry Dishong is an anchor at KDUH television in Scottsbluff. He’s well-known in the panhandle, broadcasting the news there for almost 50 years. His story is now the focus of a new documentary called “Legacy of a Newsman-Scottsbluff.”

“People will see it and hopefully think, ‘you know this is a nice part of the country that maybe we’re not utilizing.’ So I think there might be some beneficial things there,” Dishong said.

Mark Meisenheimer from Kansas City is making the documentary about Dishong. Although he wasn’t aware of Scottsbluff’s LOMED program when he shot the footage for his documentary, he said programs like LOMED could bring more money to the state.

“People on the east coast, people on the west coast, they view Nebraska as flyover land. But whenever they can see a video, a documentary, a film that personalizes the people of the state and brings out the great qualities that they have, that sort of exposure can only be a positive for the state,” Meisenheimer said.

While the local option program is a start, many in the local film industry say it’s not enough.

Mark Hoeger is one of those people. He’s the president of the NFA and co-president of Oberon Entertainment, an Omaha-based production company. Hoeger says in terms of being competitive with other states, Nebraska is one of just seven states with no serious film incentives program.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Members of the Nebraska Film Association greet guests at the NFA's legislative reception held in early April, 2013. The NFA has been lobbying the Nebraska Unicameral to pass a film incentives bill. Nebraska is one of seven states with no film incentives plan.

Hoeger says part of getting an incentives plan passed, is overcoming some lawmakers’ misconceptions about the film industry.

“They are concerned that jobs that are created by film are temporary, as opposed to permanent. That a film producer comes in, makes a film, and the circus goes away and there’s nothing left,” Hoeger said.

If Nebraska had a film incentives program and strong local film industry similar to Texas, Michigan and Florida, Hoeger says local film crews would then have plenty of work.

He likens the field to the construction industry. Framers, plumbers and electricians move from one contracted labor job to the next. Hoeger says a film crew operates in similar fashion.

However, film incentive programs have plenty of critics as well, who say there aren’t enough unbiased studies to show just how much revenue a movie brings into a state. Also, instances of widespread abuse of incentive programs have been reported in Iowa and Louisiana. The former head of the Louisiana State Film Office was sentenced to two years in prison for accepting bribes in exchange for giving lucrative tax credits to filmmakers.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Dr. Eric Thompson is an associate professor and director of the Bureau of Business Research in the Economics Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Thompson says it's not clear one way or another if giving film incentives is sound economic policy.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Working from the basement of his Omaha home, filmmaker Dan Iske edits his Internet-based horror anthology called The Dead Hour. Iske also produced/directed The Wretched, a horror movie which won awards at the Omaha Film Festival.

Eric Thompson is an economics professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is also the director of the Bureau of Business Research at UNL. According to Thompson, giving film incentives can be tricky business.  He says it’s not obvious whether it’s a good idea or bad idea for states to give tax breaks to film productions.

Thompson says if Nebraska does move ahead with a film incentives program, focus should be put on who receives the greatest benefit--local towns or the state as a whole.

“If we believe the benefits are mostly local, maybe we need to pursue or expand our existing policies which are allowing people to do this more at the local level,” Thompson said.

Omaha filmmaker Daniel Iske says he could benefit from LOMED, but since it’s not available in Omaha, he says a state wide plan would be better.

Iske directs and produces an internet-based horror anthology series called the Dead Hour, and operates on what he calls “less than a shoe-string budget.”

When asked how his career could benefit from incentives from the state, Iske said the money would help open more doors by allowing him to do things like making more use of digital effects in editing.

“Film is not a fad, it’s always going to be there. It makes more sense to have it than not to have it. Of course I’m biased, but stepping back it just makes more sense to have it than not to have it,” Iske said.

NFA President Mark Hoeger says neither Governor Dave Heineman nor former Governor Mike Johanns were agreeable to a film incentive plan in the past. So for now, it’s “to be continued.”





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