Promoters say film making bill would help Delaware economy

By Lynn R. Parks

When "Dead Poets Society," the Oscar-winning film starring Robin Williams, was filmed at St. Andrew's School near Middletown in 1989, it brought with it more than 100 jobs and contributed more than $6 million to the state's economy. It is that kind of economic success that Brian Sowards and Chris Stout with the Delaware Film Initiative would like to replicate. Sowards and Stout both lobbied for House Bill 250, which would have allowed the state to offer loan guarantees for banks on film projects. In return, 80 percent of the film would have to be shot in Delaware. HB 250, based on a similar program in New Mexico that has generated 10,000 jobs and more than $2 billion in investment in the state, was introduced in the House but did not come to the floor for a vote before the end of the legislative session. But Sowards, who is also vice president of the Delaware Film Company, is not discouraged. "The bill will be presented again in January" at the start of the new legislative session, said Sowards. "There is a growing coalition for this. Every month, we hear from more people who say, 'This really makes sense. " Delaware has "incredibly diverse locations" to offer filmmakers, he said, beaches, 200-year-old towns including Old New Castle, farms, Wilmington's metropolitan area and suburbs. In addition, he said, because it is a small state, getting permits to shoot in locations would be "a lot easier" than in larger states. In turn, he said, the film production industry would mean jobs for the state. About 80 percent of a film's budget goes to pay personnel, he said. "Granted, about half of that is for the stars and director," he added. "But the other half is for people behind the camera, building sets, doing hair and makeup and driving trucks." Typically, several hundred people are employed in a film production. "And for every job on the film set, that means four jobs in other markets," Sowards said, including lumber yards (where the production company buys materials for sets), hotels, restaurants and stores.

And the film industry is "recession proof," he added. In January, despite the current economic downtown, the industry had its first $1 billion month at the box office. The incentive program as described by HB 250 has several advantages over other states' incentive programs, Sowards said. Under it, the state would provide loan guarantees instead of the tax credits many other states offer. Revenue that is created, therefore, would not first have to go to reimburse the state for tax credits. "We wouldn't have to start out by climbing out of a hole," he said. The incentive would be directed at films with relatively small budgets, $12 million to $15 million, making it fairly sure that barring a catastrophe, the film would generate enough money to pay back the loans. And Delaware would require that big stars and directors pay wage taxes on their earnings, something no other state does. "That way, the state will be getting its full share of the business it helped to create," Sowards said. Sowards said that once the film incentive program is up and running, "we will have plenty of projects to pick from." He anticipates that Delaware could see up to 20 films produced a year. New Mexico, with its incentive program, hosts about 30 film productions a year. In researching the best way to design a film incentive program, Sowards put a question on Mandy.com, a website where actors post their resumes, asking whether people involved in the film industry would be interested in working in Delaware. "We got hundreds of replies saying, 'Yes!' " he said. "There are a lot of natives who told us that they moved to Hollywood to work and that they would love to move back east to be close to their families. "Delaware has been exporting its creative talent for decades," he added. "It's time to change that."

For your information: For details about the Delaware film incentive program, or to sign a petition supporting the program, visit bringfilmtodelaware.com.

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.