Film tax credit works

What does Maryland get from House of Cards? Quite a bit, actually.

Unfortunately, the authors of the commentary, "Film incentives benefit out-of-staters" (Oct. 10), have presented a sweeping dismissal of Maryland film tax incentives without any real insight other than a re-hashing of a 2015 Department of Legislative Services report, an analysis designed only for subsidy programs with easily gauged tax returns. Like that report, this piece refuses to apply an appropriate metric to the impact of our state's film industry and fails to identify the obvious benefits to our state. It ignores the core attraction of these visiting productions — the spending.

Since 2012, the state has awarded $55 million to productions but only after these productions spent over $338 million in Maryland and created a financial impact of over $614 million (based on the 2014 report from the Regional Economic Studies Institute). Did "out-of-staters" benefit from the tax incentives? It wouldn't be much of an incentive if it weren't attractive to out-of-state producers and studios! That's kind of the point — to entice them to spend their money here. The important question is did our state, our local businesses, our local crews and our local economy benefit from the vast amount of money that would have never come to Maryland without the tax program? Of course it did. Once again, we paid $55 million to have $338 million directly injected into our economy. The impact of that injection was almost double that amount.

The authors also reduce the scope of the production spending with a single sentence about actors staying in hotels and eating at restaurants. That's a small sliver of both the direct and the indirect production spending. While ignoring the widely available RESI Report (found on the Maryland Department of Commerce's website), they obviously did not see that since 2012, film production has patronized 14,311 Maryland businesses, and that's based only on the direct, qualified spending. That number doesn't account for the indirect patronage. If, for example, House of Cards builds a replica of the White House and buys so much lumber that the local lumber company needs to hire additional help or buy a new delivery truck, the impact of their dollar continues.

With regard to the tourism impact, it's a little bit more valuable than visiting fans looking for movie locations. In Season 4 of House of Cards, Frank Underwood throws out a pitch at an Orioles game. For several minutes of screen time, Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey wears a jacket with a large Baltimore Orioles logo. That's shown on a television show, a show with millions of international viewers that will be binge watched and re-watched for years to come. You can't put a price on that level of advertising.

When comparing Maryland's incentive program to other states like Michigan, Alaska or New Jersey, this piece fails to provide any context. Doesn't it matter that New Jersey is next door to New York, one of the largest production markets on the East Coast? Does Alaska's distant location from most production resources have anything to do with the implausibility of their program? Michigan's program was started on a much grander scale to create an entirely new industry in a much more extreme financial climate. It imported out-of-state labor to train its work force, something we have never needed to do. Unlike these three states, Maryland also has John Waters and Barry Levinson, hometown directors whose work in the 1980s and 19'90s established a long standing local crew base and a production-ready infrastructure that is still working on House of Cards. Our close proximity to the nation's capitol has always made us attractive for content with political settings. Among other things, these factors have made our state's modest tax program viable and ripe for growth. If one is going to mention the instances where tax programs were abandoned, ineffective for whatever state specific reason, why not mention the markets where it has thrived? Georgia has turned into the third largest production center on the continent with state film and television activity generating billions. Maryland has the potential to join them on that stage. But this piece neglected to mention most of this.

I write this as a Maryland citizen whose business has felt the undeniable benefit of our film incentives. As a Baltimore real estate agent, when House of Cards was renewed for its second season, I helped a half-dozen local crew members buy houses. Those are six more examples of the indirect impact not mentioned in any analysis.

Dawson Nolley, Baltimore

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