A group of filmmakers have announced a new project in North Dakota: A film about Teddy Roosevelt based on the book “Young Four Eyes.” But their ambitions go beyond the film, apparently. They don’t just want to make a movie. They want to start a movie industry in the state, and they say the first step toward doing that is subsidies for filming:
According to Princebury chief operating officer Chad Stewart, the company is interested in establishing a long-term film industry presence in the state.
Stewart said the first step will be to develop North Dakota’s infrastructure in order to facilitate a film industry, like offering tax incentives for filmmakers, which exist in other states, or establishing an active film commission division at the Department of Commerce.
Because North Dakota does not have a film commision, there is no funding budgeted for film projects from the state.
“Films wanting help from the state of North Dakota should be eligible for the same kinds of financial support and incentives as other business,” writes the Bismarck Tribune in an editorial today. “There shouldn’t be a special pool of money for movie companies.”
I agree, though I’d go further and say the state shouldn’t be supporting any business financially. But I digress.
North Dakota has been stung once already by subsidizing the movie industry. In 1999 “Wooly Boys,” starring Peter Fonda and Kris Kristofferson, was filmed in the state. The movie was a flop, and the Bank of North Dakota wrote off a $1.6 million loan to the project.
Nationally, no fewer than 42 states offer subsidies to the move industry in one form or another. “In less than a decade, the absurd notion of welfare for movie producers has evolved from the kind of weird thing they do in France to an unshakable American tradition,” wrote Michael Kinsley for Politico in 2011. But the subsidies have a spotty track record. Either taxpayers end up subsidizing projects that would be shot in their states anyway, or they simply lure projects from other states that respond by pumping up their subsidies, creating a vicious cycle of money-throwing with the movie industry folks raking it in.
Already these filmmakers in North Dakota have set themselves up to rub elbows with the state’s political elite. They’ll be holding a banquet at which Re. Kevin Cramer is the emcee and Governor Jack Dalrymple will be giving a speech. To this point, neither Cramer nor Dalrymple has mentioned anything about subsidizing the project, but politicians don’t get invited to events like this unless the organizers want something.
When the inevitable ask comes, North Dakota should say “no.”