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Gov. Jay Nixon Yells "Cut" to Filmmaking in Missouri

Keeping the state safe from Hollywood values—and millions in economic development.

Unlike so many industries that have fled America, the world of filmmaking has brought an explosion of jobs and economic development across the country in recent decades.

Thousands of films and videos are now filmed on location in cities big and small, in the rural countryside—pretty much everywhere. There are Hollywood blockbusters, tiny indie films, TV commercials and reality shows, educational videos, YouTube hits, and so on.

The larger films are tourism juggernauts, sometimes bringing large crews and ensuing hotel-and-restaurant spending, but more often than not, filmmakers large and small need to hire local talent to handle a wide range of production functions. They need technicians for sound, lighting, casting, makeup, and all sorts of other jobs that go into a production.

Even on a small commercial venture, putting together a film or video on location requires local knowledge of where the resources are, as well as choosing the right backdrops and personnel and dealing with countless logistical issues. Wherever they go, out-of-town filmmakers need local help.

It is no coincidence that hundreds of film commissions have sprung up across the country in response to the demand for such assistance. It’s an investment so obvious that literally every state in America has a full-time film office—
or at the least, some easily accessed specialists—to recruit filmmakers and serve their needs.

Well, make that every state but one.

The great state of Missouri—heretofore singularly noteworthy for having the nation’s lowest tobacco taxes—now can add this to its resume: It’s the only state that has decided to just say no to film.

In late June, Gov. Jay Nixon announced he was closing the Missouri Film Commission at a savings of $175,000, or roughly three-quarters of a thousandth of a percent of the state’s $23 billion budget. Actually, his budget director did the announcement, proclaiming that “staffing a dedicated film office was simply not feasible.”

For perspective, this amount would proportionally be the equivalent of a family with a $100,000 annual budget saving 76 cents.
Even the state’s conservative legislature had agreed to fund the commission, which played a key role in bringing two back-to-back Oscar-nominated pictures to the state, Up in the Air and Winter’s Bone.

Earlier this year, Nixon was willing to release only $1 million for the film Fun Size from the state’s $4.5 million tax-incentive fund, a decision that led the filmmakers to shoot instead in Cleveland, where the use of Ohio tax credits was credited with being key to bringing tens of millions of dollars to the local economy.

But closing the state’s film office, which played a critical role in providing a wide range of services essential to filmmakers on location, might do even more long-term damage than the refusal to use oft-controversial tax credits for films. Administering tax credits was just part of its job.

Jerry Jones, who served for more than a decade as executive director of the commission, argues there’s “no logical reason” for his office to be eliminated. He says the commission served the needs of about 100 projects generating $5.1 million in economic development last year.

Jones believes that someone in Nixon’s office mistakenly thought that the commission was largely about administering the much-debated film tax credits and that an aversion to those credits made it an easy target. Amazingly, Jones says he was never consulted or given the chance to defend the office last fall when someone in the administration removed it from the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) budget.

The legislature had reinstated much of the commission’s budget, only to have Nixon remove it again in late June. As is his custom, the governor felt no need to engage in any public debate of the issue, and he left the explanation to aides.

“The film tax credits are going to remain the same, and the functions of that office are being integrated with the Department of Economic Development, which is where the film office has been,” says Nixon spokesman Scott Holste. “We’re confident that the functions will be able to be carried out elsewhere in the department.”

Holste says eliminating the film office will save the state more than $200,000.

“In these budget times, we’ve got to look wherever we can to make cuts,” Holste says.

This seems a strange place to start. For one thing, Nixon has stated, ad nauseam, that “as governor, my top priorities are creating jobs and moving our economy forward.”

Nixon is always talking about jobs. It’s not uncommon for his office to issue press releases with titles such as “Reminder: Today Gov. Nixon in St. Joseph to announce creation of 15 new jobs, expansion of local metal fabrication company.”

A press release and a gubernatorial trip for 15 jobs? Yes, and there have been many others like it. So wouldn’t one suppose that the economic development specialists at DED are working overtime to execute this highest priority of the governor? Aren’t they already busy?

How are these people going to absorb the work of two film-industry specialists (who earned only $58,000 and $40,000, respectively, by the way), maintain the extensive database that they’d developed, handle all of the minutiae and technical details of roughly 100 projects per year, and administer the tax credits for major films?

Oh, and this absorption of duties is actually going to save the state more than the entire film commission’s budget, without missing a beat. The governor’s budget experts don’t lack creativity.

Jones says Nixon and his staff simply don’t get it.

“What we do isn’t rocket science, but it’s a very specialized field involving all sorts of specific knowledge and ability that the film industry relies upon,” Jones says. “This is like a restaurant getting rid of all its cooks and claiming we’ll just have their duties absorbed by the rest of our staff.

Cliff Froehlich, longtime local film expert and executive director of Cinema St. Louis, agrees.

“This is really unfortunate, because the work of the state film office was underrated,” Froehlich says. “It takes a great deal of knowledge of the film industry to do what the film office does, and they did it well.

“You can argue over whether tax credits are a good thing, but if you’re going to have them, they need to be used wisely,” he continues. “The film office had the knowledge to know how to place those credits with appropriate films, to know who’s an appropriate candidate that can give you the most bang for the buck, to know which directors need to be taken seriously, and a lot more.

“And the office did much more than manage the tax credits. It played a huge role in servicing the needs of the people bringing films here. It maintained a substantial database of people who the filmmakers need when they come to the state—the crew base, meaning lighting, equipment rental, makeup, costumes, cinematographers, production assistants...all kinds of people that they hire within the state.”

Froehlich says cutting the commission is especially bad for St. Louis, because the city is highly regarded for the diversity of its landscape and architecture. Its wide range of buildings, for example, can be used to mimic many other cities; thus, many locations that appear different in a film can be shot here.

He says the closing of the film office—with all of its services—may well negate the city’s natural advantages.

“Now who do these people call?” Froehlich wonders. “If they have to deal with a state bureaucracy, if it’s not simple and clear, it’s just as easy to go somewhere else.”

That’s almost certainly what will happen now that Missouri takes its proud place as the only state not providing specialized assistance to people wanting  to import films—and their attendant jobs and economic development—to the state. And saying no to any new film tax credits can’t be far behind.

“It’s a joke, what Nixon’s done,” says J. Kim Tucci, chairman of the St. Louis International Film Festival, vice chairman of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, president of The Pasta House, Democratic mover and shaker, and—he says—former major backer of Nixon.

“We’re not going to have anything now for bringing in films,” says Tucci. “He thinks he knows everything, and he thinks that the economic impact of bringing in films is minuscule to the state in comparison to what it brings to the major cities.

“Well where does he think the cities are? Aren’t we part of the state of Missouri? Is every job supposed to go to Jeff City?”

Tucci is still fuming from Nixon’s refusal to allow sufficient tax credits to go to Paramount Pictures to bring Fun Size here. He says the film’s executive producer, St. Louis University High School graduate Michael Beugg, was ready to shoot the film here on the heels of the successful Missouri production of Up in the Air.

“Paramount was so happy with their experience filming Up in the Air here that they were coming to town with Fun Size,” Tucci says. “I had 14 phone calls with Michael Beugg, and I know they were excited, and they were going to spend $15 million here.

“The economic impact would have been $50 million; we would have 7,000 room nights and all kinds of work for the Teamsters, the electricians, the carpenters, the stagehands...lots of people here. This wasn’t an indie film; this was Paramount bringing in the 18-wheelers.

“Nixon didn’t sign off, and they filmed the movie in Ohio. We got nothing.”

SLM co-owner Ray Hartmann is a panelist on KETC Channel 9’s Donnybrook, which airs Thursdays at 7 p.m.

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Comments, page 1 of 2 1 2 Next »
Jul 23, 2011 12:58 pm
 Posted by  mketcher

As a St. Louis-based writer, producer, actor, and casting director, I appreciate the article you've written. You might want to check my article about the creation of a local film office. Kansas City has done so with success. The St. Louis Film Office has been dormant for some years. See my article here, that was written for a local industry publication:

While I'm sorry to see the state film office go, that office had some deficiencies. For example, filmmakers all over the state have told me that unreturned phone calls and e-mails from the state film office were common. When a project did come into town, it was difficult for many of us who work in the industry to get adequate information about where to apply for positions. Unlike other state film commissions, job notices were almost never posted on the MO state film office web site -- and when they were posted they were generally for the most menial positions, such as extras.

Hollywood producers were more likely to be approved for tax credits than local producers. I know of at least one in-state filmmaker who took his film to Chicago, because he felt he couldn't get cooperation and tax credits in Missouri. This is no reflection on Jerry Jones and Andrea Sporcic, who ran the MO film office. The film office was understaffed, compared to most state film offices, and bogged down with a lot of petty politics. I know that because I regularly attended film commission meetings and sat through boring and endless discussions of political matters, unrelated to the mission of the film office.

The state film office has always been the unwanted stepchild of MO state government. It had been threatened more than once over the years. Over the last decade, it has been shuffled between the Department of Economic Development, Department of Tourism, and even the University of Missouri. Much of the work of the state film office over the years has been just fighting to survive, rather than its more important functions of marketing the state to the film industry and helping to facilitate production.

By the way, one slight correction to your article. It is not the state film commission that has been cut, but the state film office. The film commission, which is a state commission of volunteers, still exists. It is made up of legislators and of community leaders from different parts of the state. It has no budget, but it is still there, and they are trying to keep it alive, from what I've been told. Now that the film office is dead, perhaps the state film commission will take on a broader role.

My own solution is that a local film office can fill the gap, and perhaps do it without as much political baggage as a state film commission. There are dangers, of course, that a local film office could be hurt by political considerations, but that's less likely, especially if the safeguards I suggested in my article are pursued.

Jul 23, 2011 01:42 pm
 Posted by  Bart Baker

Having worked in the film industry for over 25 years in Los Angeles as a screenwriter and producer with 13 produced movies and TV shows under my belt, I recently moved (back) to St. Louis to raise my boys. And I was surprised to find a small but vital film community in St. Louis. People who work in film, often when they can, often for free, who love the film business but also love this beuatiful city. It's been an oasis to find people who love movies and the business of making them.

When Gov. Nixon strangled the film office budget to death I was stymied. I know first hand how much money even a small film can bring to an area. Having had two Academy Award nominated movies shot here in the last few years - Up In The Air and Winter's Bone, you would think Gov. Nixon would too. Governor Nixon, if you're reading, simply put, you tripped over dollars to save dimes. It was a dunderheaded, short sighted budget cut akin to cutting off your little toe because your dance shoes are too tight right before a dance contest where you could win a million dollars.

All you have to do is look across the river to Illinois. Do you know what filming brought to their state last year? Approximately 110 MILLION dollars. Yep, you read that right. Hey Governor, good job getting out there and touting those 15 factory jobs, that's a well-rounded approach. And losing FUN SIZE, a Paramount Pictures movie because of screwing around with the tax credit...again, tripping over dollars to save a dime.

I recently wrote a script and set it here in St. Louis. Why? Because it's a beautiful city, there are amazing locations, talented people, schools that have wonderful film programs, and it's a hell of a lot cheaper than Los Angeles to shoot. But what do you want to bet that if the movie gets made, it will shoot in another state with a film office that can facilitate the shooting, a state with a better tax advantage, and a state that actually WANTS business.

You have to create a climate for business to show up. I know the film business is exotic to some but it's a business. And it's a business that spends a lot of money. The business will go to the place that gives them the best working environment and best business advantage. And it's an American business. But the governor is off to China trying to get their business while ignoring one of the greatest American homegrown Go figure.

Governor Nixon, next time you trip a little when you're walking, it's probably some of that film money and jobs not coming into this state. But be happy, there's a dime in your pocket.

Jul 23, 2011 09:39 pm
 Posted by  Darb

St. Louis still is a very conservative city, as you all know. It's too bad the Governor of this state can't think outside of the political box and keep this venue going. If we get more movies made in St. Louis, it attracts more people, more people, more revenue! DUH, even a fourth grader can figure that much out!

Jul 24, 2011 09:10 am
 Posted by  baritone

Jay Nixon is 'owned' by the biotech and science powers and now
indirectly by the China hub powers. As Attorney General he
watched them raid MOHELA, student loan account to build labs
and hire researchers.Then he saw Linda Martinez 'throw' as much fed. stimulus as she could to her friends, and now they command the tax credits. He has seen them taken over the Universities via weak chancellors to quickly hide the money behind closed doors. It didnt help that Kim is not 'liked' in Jeff City.

Reserved piles of money like reserved seating come at a price.
And they are more than willing to pay to price.

Jul 24, 2011 12:28 pm
 Posted by  baritone

This is not rural vs urban, that's what they hope you think.

Jul 24, 2011 05:28 pm
 Posted by  moviestar

Does anyone know the truth (or have any educated guesses) about WHY this happened? Obviously it's not really about the money.

Jul 24, 2011 06:26 pm
 Posted by  baritone

The truth is all the 'little' guys were 'picked off' one by one because
they did not come together and figh their common enemy. Biotech
devoured them all-Missouri Arts and Education goes down, childrens services go down, film production goes down, historics go down. Strength in numbers was their only chance. You didnt read my early post about biotech raiding other accounts. That's not an educated guess. That's the history. And it is going to get worse.

Jul 25, 2011 12:05 am
 Posted by  J_Brockman

It's a travesty that we have to be one of only two states without a film office. However it sounds like the Film Office we had didn't run a very tight ship (according to the first poster). If Hollywood wants to shoot here, they'll shoot here. It's a shame, but we've only gotten a couple of movies here in the last couple of years. It strikes me as odd that St. Louis Magazine has some interest in this now. Now that it's too late. STLMag's not known for active stories on St. Louis/Missouri Politics, nor Arts for that matter. This has been on on going issue for months. Seeing that it's now being published in the August issue seems ineffectual. Hopefully this will bite Nixon in the but. Also a factor is the ease of producing high quality media at a fraction of the cost. I thought "Up in the Air" and "Winter's Bone" were excellent, but I'm equally impressed with some of these local St. Louis productions. "Brick By Chance and Fortune" looks as good as anything I've seen on television lately, and "Love Stalker" looks like a heck of a lot of fun. These are the films we should equally support. These are the filmmakers that'll be making films in the St. Louis of tomorrow. -Unless they just screw us over the way Nixon screwed Tucci.

Jul 25, 2011 08:50 am
 Posted by  moviestar

I must come to the defense of the Film Office. Jerry and Andrea ran as "tight a ship" as they possibly could given the very limited resources and nightmarish bureaucracy they had to deal with. My colleagues and I always got a callback or email in a timely way. They worked their butts off for our industry and achieved the what Film Offices are all about, bringing in $ and jobs. What I meant by my earlier posting, asking WHY this has happened, is I wonder if closing the office might be some sort of political payback, getting even with someone who supported the Film Office. Or could Nixon be planning to campaign against "Hollywood values"? Spare me.

Jul 25, 2011 05:35 pm
 Posted by  baritone

I don't believe tax credits would be 'central' to Spielberg's
shooting of the Dred Scott Trial where it happened. For Lincoln.
And the most important and most heavily attended Lincoln/Douglas debate. 'Small office', 'small time' thinking. It runs counter to inititives by St. Louis leaders who courted and brought the world's
greatest performers to MUNY and Kiel Opera House, for decades. Cervantes would have it done, Kiel, Francis. Strong mayors do this kind of stuff.

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