Wisconsin incentive in suspended animation


In June, Wisconsin played catch-up with many other states by authorizing an aggressive film incentives program. There was only one problem: It will not to go into effect until January 2008. Since then, members of private industry group Film Wisconsin have been working tirelessly to change a frustrating situation.

With the resumption of the Legislature in January, a bill is slated to be introduced that would change the effective date to Jan. 1, retroactively. "It has broad bipartisan support," says Scott Robbe, a founding member of Film Wisconsin. "And the governor supports it as well."

Robbe says the January 2008 date came from the state's finance department, which wanted to study the economic impact that the incentives would have. The tax scheme offers a refundable credit of 25% of direct production expenditures for feature films, television movies, episodic and miniseries television, video games and broadcast advertising production.

Also being offered is an investment tax credit of 25% that can be claimed for investing in Wisconsin-based productions and a 15% state income tax credit for film, television and electronic game production businesses that make a capital investment by starting a business in Wisconsin. "The studies came back favorably when they realized it will bring in additional revenue to the state," Robbe says.

Confident that the measure will pass, the film group is in discussions to bring in its first features, one being Beacon Pictures' "Poker Brat." The $10 million production is considering shooting in Winnipeg as a standby city, but Wisconsin residents are hoping to change the producers' minds. "There's an all-out effort in the state to bring this Madison-centric film to the state as the first film that will usher this new era of film and television production in Wisconsin," Robbe says.

Regardless of whether the incentives are backdated, one movie going ahead is "Madison," an indie that centers on a reporter's return to his college town after a stint covering the war in Iraq. Producer Nicholas Langholff, who is stretching his dollars by using student housing for some of his crew, waited to make all his purchases this week in hopes that the incentives are backdated. Langholff says if the state doesn't make the change, "it will be a missed opportunity."

"If (producers) know they are retroactive, people will start spending money now, and they will start getting crews ready now," he says. "Does the incentive really work if you don't have experienced crews and infrastructure?"

The state is trying to address criticism of weak infrastructure with several efforts that would create in-studio facilities. Announcements are expected this winter.

Of the incentives, Robbe says supporters are "cautiously optimistic -- because it's never done before it's done -- but we believe we have great bipartisan support to make it happen, which will then give the Wisconsin the richest incentives in the nation, better than Louisiana, New Mexico and North Carolina."