On Friday, the State of Wyoming’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee held a meeting in Evanston to discuss bills related to a recreational trail use fee, the Wyoming Film Production Incentive, the board of outfitters and guides civil penalty and area of operations, hunting preference points and the regulation of hunting methods.
Each bill on the agenda has the potential to impact travel and tourism in Sheridan County. The Wyoming Film Production Incentive is of interest to Sheridan Travel & Tourism, given the potential impact of film on Wyoming’s economy, our own in-house Film Development Program, and the impact of digital film and video advertising on potential visitors.
What is a film production incentive?
Movie production incentives are tax benefits offered on a state-by-state basis throughout the United States to encourage in-state film production. These incentives came about in the 1990s in response to the flight of movie productions to other countries such as Canada. Since then, states have offered increasingly competitive incentives to lure productions away from other states. The structure, type and size of the incentives vary from state to state. Many include tax credits and exemptions, and other incentive packages include cash grants, fee-free locations or other perks. Proponents of these programs point to increased economic activity and job creation as justification for the credits. Others argue that the cost of the incentives outweighs the benefits and say that the money goes primarily to out-of-state talent rather than in-state cast and crew members. Studies of the costs and benefits of incentive programs show different levels of effectiveness.
A Wyoming Film Production Incentive presents an opportunity to attract, recruit and incentivize film, documentary and commercial advertising projects that otherwise may overlook Wyoming as a shooting destination. The lack of a well-funded film production incentive puts Wyoming at a competitive disadvantage that is virtually insurmountable when exacerbated by a dearth of crew and support services, population density and transportation options.
When production companies film in Wyoming, they contribute to the economic vitality of local communities and to the state as a whole. Production companies purchase goods and services from local businesses. They also employ local labor where available — this can range from a few individuals for a few days, to hundreds or even thousands for large-scale productions (that can last for months). Film production can contribute significantly to Wyoming’s tourism economy by enhancing our public visibility through television and motion picture distribution, advertising and commercial branding.
In 2015 the Sheridan Travel & Tourism Board of Commissioners authorized the creation of a Film Development Program with the goal of attracting film, television and commercial productions to Sheridan and northeast Wyoming, and to develop quality demo-reel, collateral and advertising materials for use in marketing and promotion. This program is overseen by Film and Digital Production Coordinator Salvatore Brown, a filmmaker with extensive experience shooting in Wyoming, New York, Taiwan and more. Our Film Development Program has created many effective advertising campaign videos, short films and co-op videos that benefit local companies and organizations, and while we have had success with partners like Rolls-Royce, the Wrangler Network, Delta Airlines, Paramount (the forthcoming Prince biopic) and Galatee Films (the forthcoming William Henry Jackson biopic) major studio success has eluded us.
Our Film Development Program has partnered with industry professionals to create production ambassadors; a notable partner and ambassador is Sheridan resident and producer Bruce Moriarty, a 30-year veteran of the film industry who served as first assistant director and producer on “Forrest Gump,” “Batman vs. Superman,” “Casino Royale,” “Back to the Future” and many more feature productions.
“Wyoming has some of the finest filming locations in the world, and I’ve had countless friends and fellow filmmakers inquire about shooting here over the years,” Moriarty says. “Hurdles like lack of crew or equipment can easily be overcome by a motivated production team. But film is a business like any other, and cost savings are real and important. The first question a producer asks his location scouts is ‘what is the state’s tax credit?’ If a production is set to spend $100 million on a film, rebates and credits become a very real concern. A 15 percent tax credit could mean the difference between a homegrown Wyoming blockbuster, or the next film shot in New Mexico.”
A well-funded film incentive or tax credit may be the first step toward making film in Wyoming an industry that positively affects every resident of our great state. We would like to hear what the citizens of Sheridan think about the potential of film in Wyoming.
Shawn Parker is the executive director at Sheridan Travel and Tourism.