Lawmakers Hear Testimony on Film Tax Incentive Program
Normal In the Anchorage Assembly chambers Saturday, millions of dollars and years of development came down to two minutes.
Normal “Don’t call cut to economic diversity, to job and business growth that’s just starting to gain momentum,” said Deborah Schildt, standing at a podium in the middle of the room before the gathered lawmakers of the Anchorage Caucus. A high-pitched alarm interrupted her, signaling the end of the 120 seconds allotted for her testimony, but she continued speaking.
“I want you to look at the whole iceberg,” she said, urging legislators to consider more than just big-budget blockbusters when it came to Alaska’s film industry.
Schildt, a board member of the non-profit Alaska Film Group, was one of hundreds of speakers at Saturday’s caucus meeting. They wore red buttons reading “Don’t kill an Alaskan industry” and lined the walls of the dimly lit Assembly chambers, waiting for the chance to testify in support of a proposed extension to the state’s film tax incentive program.
Scheduled to end in 2013, the program has so far disbursed more than $14 million in tax credits for a return of roughly $45 million in in-state spending. Senate Bill 23 would authorize another $200 million in incentives over an additional ten years, and Schildt said it would provide the surety necessary for production companies to commit to major, multi-year Alaskan projects.
“If we have an extension, it gives stability and confidence to those 20 students that are in UAF right now in film degree programs, so that there will be a job for them when they get out of school,” she said, narrow wire-framed reading glasses perched on top of her head. “It’ll help people that are investing in sound studios and rental studios and rental equipment, to know that there’s going to be someone to rent it to four years, five years, ten years out.”
Schildt said she had done casting work for the last two feature films to come to Anchorage: “Big Miracle” and “The Frozen Ground.” She said she received roughly 3,000 audition inquiries for the former and more than 5,000 for the latter, and called it an indicator of the rising popularity of film in Alaska.
Outside the Assembly chambers, two smiling volunteers stood behind a table, handing out brightly colored badges and legislative contact cards to the handfuls of people milling between the atrium and the meeting. Dressed casually in a black zip-up sweatshirt covered in buttons and stickers, Karen Lauer said she had joined the Screen Actor’s Guild after appearing in a small film shot in Seward several years ago, and was advocating for an extension of the incentive program because she was “excited” about the possibilities of film in Alaska.
So were most of the other people at the meeting, she said.
“It’s been amazing, the support’s been incredible,” she said, grinning, gray hair pulled back into a ponytail. “We are almost out of the little cards to send to representatives, we have passed out over 150 buttons already.”
The show of support didn’t fall on deaf ears, lawmakers said, but some still harbor concerns about the financial ramifications of the incentive program. Representative Anna Fairclough, a member of the House Finance Committee, said she wonders whether the proposed additional $200 million in incentives would be a prudent use of Alaska’s resources.
“I wonder, listening to the people that spoke today, whether they understand that the money that would be provided is coming from responsible resource development, and that is the monetization of oil from the North Slope,” said the Eagle River Republican. Behind her, next to the Alaska Film Group table, stood another table bearing only a stack of pamphlets titled “Alaskans United to Stop Our Oil Wealth Giveaway.”
With more than 80 percent of Alaska’s economy tied to oil and gas development, Fairclough said the future of the industry would determine whether the state could continue the film program, and she said the debate over oil and gas taxes was closely tied to a decision on film incentives.
“We need to be fairly confident that we can actually sustain and pay those credits on into the future,” Fairclough said. “If we have limited funds projected into the future, then how can we extend the program if we know that those are going to be in decline?”
When it comes to Alaska’s economy, she said film is just the tip of the iceberg.