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Will Film for Incentives

Idaho filmmakers woo lawmakers for tax breaks

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Will film for incentives

Idaho filmmakers woo lawmakers for tax breaks

INT. CAPITOL BUILDING ROTUNDA: DAY

A 19th century marble-columned capitol building rotunda that ECHOES.

White guys in suits pass each other on the grand staircases with loud FOOTSTEPS and EXCITED TALKING.

A large group of Indians in feather headdress hold a loud press conference with the WORLD'S LOUDEST MICROPHONE. TRIBAL DRUMS keep a steady beat.

--CUT TO--

EXT. BUILDING STEPS: DAY

Gay and lesbian activists with signs on the front steps of the building. CHANTING and MUFFLED MEGAPHONE VOICES.

--PAN TO--

EXT. BUILDING STEPS SIDE: DAY

A politician holds another press conference. Reporters SHOUT questions at him.

--DISSOLVE TO--

INT. BUILDING ROTUNDA

CHATTERING groups of schoolchildren walk through.

Filmmakers, students, equipment companies and organizations CLATTER, BANG, and LAUGH as they set up displays. Their electronic equipment BEEPS, SQUEALS, CHIRPS.

--CUT TO--

INT. GOVERNOR'S OFFICE DOOR

GOVERNOR (bursting through the door and screeching to a halt. He gives a two-fingered WHISTLE.)

OK, I made up that last part. But the rest closely resembles the truth, and it all went down at last week's Film Day at the Statehouse on February 14.

It's often organized chaos when movie people get together. Physical set-ups from computers to castles are all in a day's work, but the cacophony and commotion make them look a little mental while they're at it. Their charming assumption that you are just as interested in their work as they are has the effect that, by god, you are. Using their natural enthusiasm, gee-whiz personalities, and displays of tantalizing camera tracks and digital toys, members of the Idaho film community spent a day at the Statehouse lobbying legislators for a tax break on film production in Idaho.

"People don't have a clue what's going on in Idaho film production," said Alex McNish, producer of Idaho Film Day for the Idaho Film Bureau, "but we have a wide array of production companies, equipment suppliers and other infrastructure for shooting films here." McNish wrote the script for the event and made sure her players stuck to it, and the result was a full house. The buzz was positive, but the reviews will come in later this month, when lawmakers vote on House Bill 497. The measure would provide tax breaks and incentives for media companies who shoot in Idaho, making it more attractive to bring productions here.

More than 20 other states have similar legislation, which can include property tax breaks for film companies and tax credits for hiring state residents as production workers. Since Louisiana passed legislation in 2002, film production there went from $20 million to almost a billion dollars in 2005.

State Senator David Langhorst (D-Boise) was interested in those kind of figures. "If we give tax incentives, there needs to be a clear payoff for taxpayers," he said. Langhorst talked potential income for the state, quizzing young filmmaker Michael Gough. Gough now heads Super Red Pictures where he produced and directed the feature-length Autumn Angel, a thriller about a family curse. His movie, shot entirely in Idaho, has played to a sellout crowd at Boise's Egyptian theater and is now touring small towns.

Gough showed Langhorst his mobile production house, which he easily set up in less than 10 square feet, and his camera, which cost just $5,000 as compared with a standard $50,000 Hollywood version. An intense boys-with-their-toys instructional session began, with a fascinated Langhorst playing with digital command stations and learning to edit.

Oscar-winning director Ben Shedd had a presence at Film Day. His Flight of the Gossamer Condor won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1978, and his Shedd Productions has produced IMAX films, Public Television's famed "NOVA" series, and several dozen award-winning documentaries. Along with Rep. Jana Kemp (R-Boise), Shedd co-chairs the Idaho Film Task Force whose mission according to their literature is "to develop film and media production tax incentives and workforce training support for the state of Idaho to encourage increased film production business in the state."

Shedd spends time encouraging young filmmakers like Mark Hewes, a senior at Northwest Nazarene University in its "Media Through Literature" program. His experimental short film Clocks has screened at two western film festivals. "I'm here to help out because I'm a serious film student, and I'd like to stay in Idaho," he said. Hewes and a classmate said the film program at NNU is "the best kept secret" and has prepared them well to begin film careers, but that lack of opportunity in Idaho will force them to leave. "More films would shoot here if it was easier for them," he said.

Echo Films was founded in 1971, making it one of the state's oldest film companies. Specializing in wildlife, sports and outdoor cinematography, the two principals are affectionately known as "the Nelson boys." Norm and Tyler are sons of the late Morley Nelson, the famed birds-of-prey specialist. Norm is their cheerleader. "Film and television productions of all kinds bring money into the state, in a very clean way. The people are highly skilled and educated, with a tremendous work ethic.There's very little waste compared to the money that gets spent," he said.

"If you look at the states around us, they spend hundreds of thousands on promoting their locations. Anything that would entice filmmakers here would help. If we spend it, they will come."

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