Straight from the film office

Big Tax Incentives Now Available in Big Sky Country

Direct from the Film Office — With the Montana Economic Industry Advancement (MEDIA) Act, Montana’s first film tax incentive since the Big Sky on the Big Screen Act sunset in 2015, Montana has a new tool to help get stories told in Montana.

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The MEDIA Act, which became effective July 1, 2019, offers a 20% production expenditure tax credit, with additional components that can increase the transferable credit to a maximum of 35% of total base film production investment.

GreenSlate’s Kathleen Thompson, Vice President – Incentives and New Business Development, recently interviewed Allison Whitmer, the Film Commissioner of the Montana Film Office, to discuss Montana’s new incentives program, the reasons filmmakers should consider filming their next production in the state, and more.

Listen to the podcast or read the interview below.

Kathleen:

Hello everyone. This is Kathleen Thompson, Vice President of Incentives and New Business Development here at GreenSlate. Today we're speaking with Allison Whitmer, the Film Commissioner of the Montana Film Office.

Hi Allison, thanks for being with us today.

Allison: Hi Kathleen, it's a pleasure to visit with you.
Kathleen: Thank you. We're so excited to have the Montana incentives program on the scene. Can you give us a brief rundown of the program?
Allison:

Yes. It's a brand-new program that went into effect July 1st.

It's a 20% expenditure tax credit, and we have a number of components that make it very attractive to location filmmakers.

We offer a 25% incentive for resident crews, a 15% incentive for non-resident crews, an incentive to hire college students at 30%, and a 20% incentive for above the line directors, writers, talent, and key production crew. We also offer some incentives to bring you out into our gorgeous wide-open spaces - our underserved county incentive is 5%, and it's 10% if you work on a college or university in the state.

We have some new studio facilities coming online too - we've included an incentive for that at 10%. And then of course screen credit to Montana gives you an overall incentive of 5%, additionally.

Kathleen: Wow. That is a lot of incentives to come to Montana!
Allison:

It's a lot of incentives. Yes. And we're a big state. Montana's the size of Germany. We're the fourth largest state. There are a lot of places to film. This incentive, which is a transferable tax incentive, gives flexibility to producers.

Kathleen: Of course. What is the annual funding?
Allison: Currently, it has a cap of $10 million of issuable incentives.
Kathleen: In addition to a great incentive, what are the top three reasons that filmmakers should come to Montana?
Allison:

We do not have a sales tax, which is a very attractive incentive on top of our other features. It is a no paperwork sales tax. We are very happy with that. That makes doing paperwork and production accounting very simple.

As for our other attributes, Montana's known as big sky country and we have these immense landscapes. We have thousands of acres of public lands, and we have these incredibly charming and vibrant small towns with friendly people. And you know, sometimes you might see a celebrity hanging out at Dairy Queen getting an ice cream cone.

Kathleen: Can you tell us what a producer should do if they're considering coming to Montana?
Allison:

We've put together some really good tools for producers on our Montanafilm.com website.

We have a tab for the incentives program, and on that there’s the breakdown of all the categories for the incentives and a link to the actual statutes.

We have a map of the underserved counties and a list of the colleges and universities that qualify too. And we have both a paper application that you can download and do your scratch work on and a link to the application itself. We have all those resources for a producer to look at and to do their pre- production work on.

We also strongly suggest that you call us and talk to us about your project. We are on the phone all the time. There's a $500 fee involved in certifying your application, so when you go to certify your application and pay your fee, we want to have all of your information correct before that point. And we also want to make sure that Montana's a good fit for you. We can help you with some preliminary locations and questions, so when you fill out your application, you're good to go with the process.

Kathleen:

When we spoke initially, you mentioned some of the history of filmmaking in Montana. Can you give us a little bit of that?

Allison:

Absolutely. A lot of people are surprised when they find that Montana has such a deep connection to the arts. We are the home of some great entertainers. The actress Myrna Loy was from Montana, and Gary Cooper was from here. They both started out in the arts in Montana and then of course moved to Los Angeles.

But we've been making movies here since 1916. A friend of Charlie Russell, his last name was Coburn, went out into the mountains south of Malta, which was remote in 1916, and did a number of Western pictures. At one time he'd amassed the largest collection of Native American artifacts in a multi-state region, and he traveled all over the country promoting his films. As you know, at that time filmmaking was full of new innovations and all these great ideas.

And since then, we've had some of the most acclaimed directors in the world like Steven Spielberg and Robert Redford, and the list goes on and on and on.

We have done some iconic films. Of course, A River Runs Through It, Robert Redford with Brad Pitt, is our calling card from Montana. Everything that you could ever want, the beautiful landscapes, a dramatic story, and that feeling that you've really come home to a place. But also John Travolta's done action movies. Spielberg has done airplane forest fire films. And of course, Glacier Park is heaven in What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams.

Kathleen:

That is quite a calling card. You must be really proud.

Allison:

We have such high-quality projects that are done here, and we offer just an unparalleled experience for crews and producers. You can film during the day and go fishing in the afternoon. You can see bison and elk and bald eagles. And you can also go into our major cities and you own it. You can work with the mayors, and you can sometimes be the only person filming in the entire state. It's a really peaceful way to do work.

Kathleen:

That’s really wonderful. Well, hopefully that will change, but somebody will still have the experience of being the only person, right?

Allison:

Well, we are the size of Germany, you know. It’s 600 miles plus from one end of the state to the other. 46 of Montana's counties are classified as frontier, with less than six people per square mile, so it's you and the cows hanging out on the prairie, filming.

We recently had a producer go to a small town on Montana's Hi-Line, up by Canada. And his comments were this: That we had too many good locations, and that he couldn't wait to come back.

Kathleen:

What a great comment!

Allison:

It's the type of feedback we really love to hear. Everyone they worked with was fantastic. They had a small crew. It was a film that they'd wanted to do for a long time, and they'd spent extensive time scouting. They were just thrilled with their experience.

Kathleen:

Without spilling anything confidential, who's planning on coming to Montana?

Allison:

We’ve got some fun stuff coming up. We’ve been scouting for a really fantastic literary property with an Academy Award winning person.

And then we also have a director who has filmed here before, who is returning to do some work in Montana. I think at last count he'd won 80+ international awards, so there are some tidbits for your sleuths out there.

We’ve also got Yellowstone, the Kevin Costner series filming here. It's right now the number one series on cable television, I believe. Five million viewers a week, someone tells me.

Kathleen: Wow. So lastly, we've had a great experience in terms of working with the Film Office, with your responsiveness to client inquiries. Do you have a close relationship with producers and filmmakers once the production starts?
Allison:

We do have a close relationship with them. Of course, we love to talk about how we have this big, beautiful, gorgeous state to film in, but the reality is it is a big, beautiful state.

It has a lot of landscapes, it has a lot of time in transportation, and there are logistics involved with being a very large state, so we work very closely with the producers. We've assisted with lodging, and permits, and introductions. And we have road signage that we lend to producers, because the company that may have the signage is six hours away, and we happen to be centrally located in the state. We’ve transported actors, we've helped with visas, we've made introductions to city councils. We're very hands on.

We also make sure that the communities have a good experience with filmmakers. One of the first things we tell people is to not be a jerk because we'll find out. You have to behave. We want everyone to have a good experience.

Kathleen:

Yes, of course. Allison, I can't thank you enough for your time today. I know that you're busy, and I really, really appreciate you spending time with us. Is there anything you'd like to say in your last moments here with us?

Allison:

We are gearing up for the fall season and winter. We get a lot of commercials at this time of the year. We've had a great summer, it's still green out. And if anyone's out there that's looking to do some wheat harvesting, that part is just beginning. So we welcome everyone's calls. We're very excited to have this new incentive program, and we can't wait to see some more of Montana in theaters.

 

Considering Montana for your next production? Visit montanafilm.com, or explore GreenSlate’s suite of intuitive, web-based production incentive tools – including an interactive map, comparison tool, and incentives calculator – to easily search, compare, and calculate production incentives on any device. For any tax incentive inquiries, contact Kathleen Thompson.

GreenSlate
20 September 2019

News
Direct from the Film Office
Incentives

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