Bill aims to boost incentives for filming in Washington

If 'Twilight' is set in Washington, it should have been shot in Washington, legislators say.

Mas, left, directs on the set of SYFY’s zombie series Z Nation

Juan A. Mas, left, directs on the set of SYFY’s zombie series “Z Nation” as an episode is filmed outside of Spokane in September 2015. (Courtesy of Daniel Schaefer/Outlier Imagery)

Movies set in Washington — from vampire flicks on the Olympic Peninsula to a film about workers’ rights protests in Seattle — are often filmed elsewhere. A new bill hopes to increase financial incentives to change that.

Washington state has the third smallest film incentive program in the country, according to an industry group. This legislative session, however, state lawmakers are hoping to increase the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program funding from $3.5 million to $20 million with Senate Bill 5760.

State Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, a sponsor of SB 5760, is one of many lawmakers and film advocates who sees a funding increase as necessary in order for Washington to hold a competitive edge against other states in the region.

“I really believe this is one of the most important economic development bills that we’ve had in recent years in making us more competitive, and bringing our creative economy into alignment with those around the country,” Frockt said during a Jan. 25 hearing before the Senate Committee on Business, Financial Services and Trade.

The money would go toward tax breaks and grants for the film production companies that apply. According to Spokane filmmaker Juan Mas, receiving some incentive from the state has become something production companies expect.

Montana offers $12 million in film incentives, Oregon has $20 million, and Vancouver, British Columbia, allows limitless spending on incentivizing film in the region. It is typically less expensive for filmmakers to shoot elsewhere. 

The Twilight Saga, shot primarily in Oregon and Vancouver, is certainly not the only Washington-set film that was shot outside of the state. More recently, film advocates were saddened by the news that Boys in the Boat — the story of University of Washington’s rowing crew competing in the 1936 Olympics — will be shot in England.

“Of all the stories, that is a Washington story,” said Amy Lillard, executive director of Washington Filmworks. “That is about character and environment and the community, and it’s just being made in England.”

Juan A. Mas directs on the sefilmedt of SYFY’s zombie series ‘Z Nation’ as an episode is filmed outside of Spokane in September 2015. (Courtesy of Daniel Schaefer/Outlier Imagery)

Mas, who directed the series Z Nation, said Washington’s comparatively limited incentive budget makes filming in the state much more difficult.

“The amount of money that’s offered in the incentive and how quickly it goes make it impossible for us to be competitive,” Mas said.

Mas started working in Washington nearly 25 years ago, drawn to the eclectic look of the state, with physical scenery ranging from rainforests to dunes to mountains. During the five year run of Z Nation, the film incentive program didn’t have much money left to offer other productions, according to Mas.

SB 5760 is the most recent effort to expand Washington’s film incentive program. Washington Filmworks was created during the 2006 legislative session to encourage economic development in the film industry. Over the past 15 years, Washington Filmworks has advocated for 10 bills to increase the motion picture incentives, although none has passed so far.

According to Lisa Brown, director of the state Department of Commerce, providing monetary incentives for filmmakers to shoot in Washington has become a much more accepted idea among lawmakers in recent years.

As this bill progresses through the Legislature, both Democrats and Republicans have expressed their support, many citing the incentives’ benefits on Washington’s creative economy. Sen. Shelly Short, Republican floor leader from Spokane, has been working with SB 5670’s sponsors to incorporate clauses that allocate a certain amount of money toward filmmaking in rural areas.

“Filmmaking, the arts, have such incredible opportunities in the state of Washington,” Short said. “We have a beautiful state.”

Lawmakers seem to agree that the film incentive program is an important opportunity to support many different areas of the state economy.

“What’s interesting about film spending is that only 5% of the spending is unique to film businesses,” Lillard said.  “When you look at a film set, it is a microcosm of the creative economy based on all of the different workers that are on set.”

Although lawmakers are unsure whether the full $20 million incentive program will make it into the final state budget, the goal is for the credit to be big enough that multiple major film projects will be filmed in the state at the same time.

“I’m hopeful that we become really known on the map as a great place to make movies, and that we’ll have projects going year-round in different parts of the state,” Brown said.

Cast and crew are seen on the set of SYFY’s zombie series “Z Nation,” as they film an episode outside of Spokane in September 2015. (Courtesy of Daniel Schaefer/Outlier Imagery)

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