Last-Minute Effort Saves Movie and TV Tax Incentives in Oklahoma

3:55 PM PST 03/04/2014 by Alex Ben Block
"August: Osage County"

Lawmakers looking to kill the program that lures productions criticized "August: Osage County," which is about a dysfunctional family, for making the state look bad.

After a near-death experience, it appears the generous tax incentives in the state of Oklahoma, which helped bring the movie August: Osage County there, will be renewed for another 10 years.

After failing to receive enough votes to be renewed Monday -- by three votes -- the House on Tuesday did a revote and approved the renewal by 65 to 28 votes, which is 14 more votes than were needed for passage. The current law expires on July 1, and the bill renews it until 2024.

The vote on Monday came after an Oklahoma lawmaker decried Hollywood morals and specifically attacked August: Osage County as a movie that portrayed the state in a negative light because it is about a flawed family and an overbearing matriarch. "If you could bring the whole city of Hollywood here," said Republican Rep. David Dank on Monday, "I wouldn't want them."

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The movie is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Tracy Letts, an author from Oklahoma, who also penned the screenplay. It was a successful Broadway play before becoming a movie, which was nominated for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday. The two stars of the movie, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, were also nominated for acting awards but also lost. Among the producers is George Clooney's company.

Some lawmakers attacked the film directly.

"Don't expect us to pay for a film about a dysfunctional family," state Rep. Dank said, according to a report on the Oklahoman website.

Besides blasting the movie, another lawmaker, Rep. Mike Reynolds, had called the tax incentive program a "tax payer giveaway" that only benefits a specific area where a movie is shot.

The author of the bill to renew the tax incentives, Rep. Todd Thomsen, has sided with those who say it brings the state revenue, taxes and attention, and it is a boost to tourism. A spokesperson for Thomsen confirmed the bill was approved on a revote.

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The film commission has estimated movie and TV production in the state brought in $88.9 million in economic activity, and had a direct impact on the state of $35.1 million last year through spending on everything from housing to set construction and lighting equipment.

Jill Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Film & Music Office, told media in the state on Monday that without the rebate, they are unlikely to attract film or television activity at a time when 46 other states offer tax incentives.

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Oklahoma offers a rebate of up to 37 percent on money spent in the state and a break on sales taxes, with a cap of $5 million. It is unclear how much August: Osage County will receive. The production costs have been estimated at about $25 million.

Now that it has passed the House, the bill will go to the state Senate, where a version was previously approved. After that, it goes to the governor, Mary Fallin, who is expected to sign it into law.

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