In an editorial over the weekend, the Fargo Forum made a case for North Dakota offering film incentives.
This was occasioned by the recent work in Fargo on a film based there called “Tankhouse.” The company which owns the Forum (and which also employs me) is an investor in that film.
“North Dakota has the means and the tools to provide meaningful incentives to draw filmmakers to the state,” the editorial concludes. “It merely lacks the vision to make it happen.”
The problem with all economic incentive policies is that they’ve become an arms race. Whether it’s incentives for real estate development, business start-ups, or filming, the argument is always that other states and communities are offering incentives. If we don’t, we’ll supposedly be left behind.
This is a frustrating reality, and I’m not sure what we can do about it. North Dakota needs a more diverse economy. We want other types of commerce and business to take place here. But if other states are going to give those businesses and industries a handout to establish themselves there, instead of here, they’re probably going to take it.
I was previously against film incentives. After a podcast interview earlier this year with David Diebel, a producer and co-owner of Bismarck-based DN Cinematics and a board member of the North Dakota Film and Media Association, I changed my mind. I am now cautiously in favor of at least the concept of incentives.
I have one lingering concern, however. The American film industry, centered as it is in Hollywood, is unique among American enterprises in how overtly political it is. And not political in the way all industries are political, advocating for its interests with both Republicans and Democrats, but overwhelmingly left-wing political.
Georgia has a very successful incentive program for film/television production. It has lured projects like The Walking Dead, Ozark, Stranger Things, and various Marvel movies to the state. Earlier this year, certain luminaries in the entertainment industry used that economic clout to bludgeon the state for sinning against liberal orthodoxy.
Georgia’s elected leaders passed a law Hollywood doesn’t like, and now Hollywood is out to punish the state.
Setting aside for a moment your feelings about Georgia’s new restrictions on abortion, do we want to Hollywood in a position to have a sort of veto over North Dakota policy?
Do we want a bunch of celebrities, using their outsized public platforms, to heap scorn and threats of economic harm on us every time we, be it at the ballot box or through our elected leaders, take a position that progressive Hollywood doesn’t like?
In rebuttal to my own argument, the political attacks on Georgia haven’t exactly had an economic impact commensurate with the amount of media attention they garnered.
North Dakota voters have to ask: if we give Hollywood incentives to come and work here, are we also inviting in their abusive political practices too?