There is much debate lately about whether or not tax incentives and credits for film and television production are a good idea ("A bad investment," Dec. 3). Opponents of these incentives can point to their studies and show how the state recoups little of what it invests in these productions. The Maryland Film Office and industry advocates like the Maryland Film Industry Coalition, local crew and businesses can point to other studies that show that the opposite is true. Who is right? After 20 years of making movies in every corner of this country and watching the real economic impact of what these productions bring to town with them, there is no question that the benefits are numerous and the impact is significant.
I moved the headquarters of my company to Maryland from Los Angeles several years ago for many reasons. First and foremost it is because I am a Marylander. I spent 15 years living in Los Angeles and building my career, but my heart was always at home in Maryland. I had faith that Maryland would be competitive with other states in attracting productions. I was wrong. In the first few years the small incentives put forth by the folks in Annapolis failed to draw any meaningful work. We were forced to relocate to Atlanta. Georgia, it seems, has got it figured out. The incentive there has drawn thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure development by small and large companies alike. We grew from a small company with a tiny presence in the industry to a formidable competitor thanks to those incentives and the productions they attracted.
Then, something amazing happened. The incentive in Maryland grew, and the Maryland Film Office worked hard to attract small features as well as two very significant television series. As these shows ramped up, we scrambled to relocate equipment back to the area to capture as much of the business as possible. Two years into "House of Cards," we have become the primary vendor for transportation equipment, and that show alone will account for a significant percentage of our revenues this year. That means that we will buy trucks in Maryland, we will register trucks in Maryland, and we will pay fuel tax in Maryland. We will employ people in Maryland, we will buy parts and make repairs in Maryland. All of the people that we as a company impact economically will do the same, and so the cycle goes.
But, the big question is do we invest permanently here? Do we lease property and invest in infrastructure here the way that we did in Georgia? Well, that depends. Do our representatives in Annapolis and our governor-elect support keeping this industry here?
Make no mistake about it, anyone who tells you that movies and television are short term and have no real long-term impact on the economy is woefully misinformed. Although individual projects may only last a few months or at best a few years, fostering an industry that returns year after year with one project after another provides high paying jobs with great benefits for thousands of people, utilizes real estate, is a boon to small local businesses and provides real and tangible benefits in many ways. But, don't take my word for it. Go to Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico and others to see the amazing economic impact of the film industry. Perhaps we should stop debating studies and reports that look at things in a vacuum and start talking to the local businesses and vendors, talk to the local crew and talent. Find out what these incentives really mean to them and their families. Ask any of the crew on "VEEP" or "House of Cards" how important these incentives are to keeping jobs in Maryland. They will all tell you that without them, they are forced to go elsewhere to practice their craft. That means millions of dollars leaving the state.
So, I ask that before you make up your mind about whether or not film and television tax credits are a good idea, talk to the people they affect. Remember that studies made on the viability of these credits have been done time and time again with results that are vastly different. Instead of relying on the hypothetical, use common sense and ask yourself if an industry that provides thousands sustainable jobs with great benefits and that will inject tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars into the state's economy is not worth saving. It seems pretty simple to me.
Aaron Skalka, Annapolis