The Pierce County Herald and tons of other so-called mainstream “news” sites report the following story:
“Film-makers will hold a panel discussion next month on the future of Wisconsin’s tax breaks for making the Badger State a back-drop for movies. The forum will take place on December eighth in Madison, at a screening of the Door County film “Feed the Fish.” Green Bay native and Emmy-winning actor Tony Shalhoub starred in that movie. “Feed the Fish” received tax breaks when it was filmed on the Door Peninsula last year. But it didn’t get as much as the Johnny Depp film “Public Enemies.” That show got four-and-a-half million dollars, which caused outgoing Governor Jim Doyle to dramatically scale back the incentives. Republican Governor-elect Scott Walker has said he would re-work the movie tax incentives. Producer Mark Metcalf will moderate discussion on the subject. Four film-makers from the state will also take part, along with three board members from the group “Film Wisconsin.”
But none of them actually say exactly where or when the event is taking place… and the Film Wisconsin Website says, “We are currently overhauling our site to better serve you.” Nonetheless, I finally fell upon the complete details at FilmWisconsin.us, a site operated by Badger Guide LLC, publisher of the Wisconsin Production Guide (billing itself as the most complete directory for film, video, television and commercial production in Wisconsin).
Here’s the scoop and I do mean scoop, because of the “investigative journalism” required to deliver the following:
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
The Orpheum Theatre, 216 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin
A panel discussion on the proposed improvements to the Wisconsin Film Tax Incentives heads an evening of Wisconsin filmmaking. Following the panel discussion will be an opportunity to speak one-on-one with some of the panel members and then a screening of the Wisconsin feature film, Feed the Fish.
Panel Discussion is free and open to the public. Feed the Fish is $7.50 general admission and $5.00 for Students & Seniors.
6:00-7:00 p.m. Panel Discussion (WI Film Tax Incentives)
7:00-8:00 p.m. Social Hour (One-on-one questions w/panel)
8:00-9:30 p.m. Screening of Feed the Fish (Ticket required)
9:30-9:45 p.m. Q&A with the film’s Wisconsin based crew
Funding for the WI Department of Commerce-backed program, originally launched in 2008, was reduced to $500,000 per year. In it’s first year, there was no limit placed on incentives. The budget thresholds for eligible productions were also lowered to $50,000 for film projects and $100,000 for game developments. For more information about Wisconsin’s film tax credit programs, contact Steve Sabatke, Economic Development Consultant, Bureau of Business Finance & Compliance, Wisconsin Department of Commerce, 201 West Washington Avenue, Madison, WI 53707-7970. Phone: 608.267.0762 or email: Steven.Sabatke@Wisconsin.gov.
The debate circles around the subject of benefits harvested in Wisconsin vs. the investment. In reporting on the cutback, the LaCrosse Tribune explains the situation regarding the film Public Enemies: “Starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, the movie generated a lot of exposure and excitement for the state. It did not, however, generate much money. According to the Commerce Department, the production received $4.6 million in tax rebates and credits but only generated $5 million in economic activity.”
The producers and actors of “Feed the Fish” camped out in Door County for several weeks, but failed to spend much money here except for gas and groceries, expecting locals residents to “volunteer” to work with them. Shalhoub confirms this in a recent Business Journal interview saying, “A lot of people donated a lot of time, including the locals in Door County. They donated hotel rooms and there was a lot of support. They rallied around the project.”
It was disappointing to see the numerous missed opportunities to really connect locally, but none was greater than their failure to include the actual Jacksonport Polar Bear Swim. Instead we get a weak reenactment of one of the largest such events in the nation. The authentic filming of this event alone, might have justified the investment from a publicity standpoint and helped to salvage a somewhat mediocre production.
While the Wisconsin arts community rallied to save the film incentives program from Doyle’s hatchet, no one spoke up for an alternative to funding big-ticket Hollywood productions. “Feed the Fish” filmmakers received $40,000 in tax credits for their film. What if ten independent Wisconsin filmmakers each got $4000? At this point “Feed the Fish” is floundering with no national distribution. I’d like to see ten chances to launch an up-and-coming local filmmaker and crew over one chance at seeing Hollywood stars hanging out in my neighborhood for a few weeks.