Thursday, February 26, 2015

"The last frontier of absurdity" Alaska Reality Shows And The Film Subsidies

Homer writer Tom Kizzia has a long column in today's opinion section of the LA Times about reality shows filmed in Alaska.
"Here in Alaska, TV crews have been everywhere the last few years, clutching scripts for "unscripted" shows and handing out confidentiality agreements, asking us to play along. . ."
". . . So much is exaggerated or flat made up. We see acquaintances exclaim about the indoor plumbing as they shop for houses that we know aren't really for sale. We watch them cry out in mock alarm as they fall into icy rivers with dry suits hidden under their Carhartts. Bristol Bay fishermen formally protest errors on Animal Planet's 'Battle on the Bay.' Eskimos object to their portrayal on TLC's 'Escaping Alaska'.” 
Tom's a gifted writer and the story rings true for me, based on conversations I've had with people  who have tangled with film makers looking for characters.  The piece also points out that the state has been subsidizing a lot of this:
"What's strange is that this cringe-worthy montage has been subsidized by the state of Alaska. One-third or more of a production's costs can be refunded through a film incentive program launched under Palin in 2008. The idea was to attract feature films, create local jobs and publicize the state's charms. But there was a backlash — some legislators didn't like it when actor Ted Danson showed up on a film set to lecture them on the environment, while others complained about $360,000 paid to support Bristol Palin's short-lived show about being a single mom. The state responded by making everything confidential, so we don't even know how much this is costing. The state paid out $44 million up to 2013, and probably at least that much more since then. Officials say the majority has gone to TV, with 29 unscripted programs applying for subsidies last year."
As a film fan, I've tended to rationalize that of all the ways the state is subsidizing Outside businesses - starting with the oil companies and various roads proposed to remote mining sites - a little money to the film industry wasn't a big deal.

But the blogger in me also checked out other states and film subsidies and I realized this was not much different than companies playing states off against each other for various tax and other incentives to build sports stadiums and manufacturing plants.  Few people take the time to seriously compare the value of the lost state revenue to the value of the jobs.  Certainly, the $2 billion (or so) tax break the oil companies were given by ex-Governor Parnell, would have paid for a lot more jobs than the oil companies are bringing to the state.

The Center for Budget and Public Priority's page on film subsidies starts out this way:
"Like a Hollywood fantasy, claims that tax subsidies for film and TV productions — which nearly every state has adopted in recent years — are cost-effective tools of job and income creation are more fiction than fact. In the harsh light of reality, film subsidies offer little bang for the buck.
State film subsidies are costly to states and generous to movie producers. 
Today, 43 states offer them, compared to only a handful in 2002. Over the course of state fiscal year 2010 (FY2010), states committed about $1.5 billion to subsidizing film and TV production (see Appendix Table 1) — money that they otherwise could have spent on public services like education, health care, public safety, and infrastructure. The median state gives producers a subsidy worth 25 cents for every dollar of subsidized production expense. The most lucrative tax subsidies are Alaska’s and Michigan’s, 44 cents and 42 cents on the dollar, respectively. Moreover, special rules allow film companies to claim a very large credit even if they lose money— as many do."
While I'm not a fan of Sen Stolze, he's not wrong to raise questions about the film subsidies.  I'm not sure about eliminating incentives altogether.  I suspect his actions are not based on my reasons for having doubts, since I've never heard about him questioning state subsidies to, for example, the oil or construction industries. and other campaign supporters.  Maybe those film makers or the companies buying the tax deferrals from the film companies should start making more campaign contributions and start lobbying.

Maybe this piece will get more people to read Tom's great book on the Pilgrim family.  I was reluctant to read it thinking I didn't need any more about that family, but my book club chose it and I was surprised at all I didn't know about that strange family living in Kennecott.

1 comment:

  1. Painful as it was to read, Tom Kizzia's book must have been much harder to research and write. He did a great job.


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