Media Act seeks to bring film projects to Montana
HB 293 receives positive legislative feedback
HELENA—A bill introduced to the Montana legislature on February 7 could help facilitate steps to bring film projects into Big Sky Country using tax incentives that would help small, local film companies be more competitive.
The Montana Economic Development Industry Advancement Act (MEDIA Act) seeks to “enhance Montana’s economy by expanding film and related media projection in the state, by increasing job opportunities…and by promoting the growth of small businesses,” according to the text of the bill, which has yet to be voted on.
Sponsored by Representative Wylie Galt of Martinsdale, the bill would allow production companies and filmmakers to apply for tax incentives that would make filming in Montana a more viable and affordable option rather than going to another state or another country to film stories that may still be “set” in Montana.
The bill outlines the potential tax credit to be equal to 20 percent of the “production expenditures in the state in the tax year,” but the size of the credit could vary based on certain factors, such as whether the project is an ongoing television series, a film or a project worked on by students in the Montana university system.
There are options to apply for an additional five percent credit for “production expenditures made in an underserved area,” and for 25 percent of the compensation paid to each crew or production staff member who is a Montana resident.
“This incentive would tip the scales to yes on a number of large projects that are ripe and ready to shoot in the state as soon as this summer,” writes Jeri Rafter, a Missoula-based producer whose projects have been featured at the International Rotterdam Film Festival, the Travel Channel and other national and international stages. Rafter currently helps produce Missoula’s annual International Wildlife Film Festival.
“But more than that, this incentive would generate a ton of outside spending coming into our state and bolster our small economies,” Rafter says. “It would provide production companies a way to pay an honest day’s wage and it emphasizes and prioritizes hiring local Montana workers and vendors.”
Rafter uses as examples the films “Cut Bank” and “Lewis and Clark.”
“Cut Bank,” a 2015 film which starred Liam Hemsworth, Billy Bob Thornton and John Malkovich, is set in the town of Cut Bank in Glacier County, but was filmed in Alberta, Canada.
“Lewis and Clark,” a television miniseries designed to retell the story of the 1806 expedition produced by Ben Affleck and starring his younger brother Casey, was also slated to film in Canada, even for the parts of the expedition that went through Montana. That project was later largely scrapped as producers returned to the drawing board in 2016 and never resumed filming.
The hope is that with the tax incentives provided by the MEDIA Act, fewer projects will choose to leave Montana in favor of cheaper production locations, and local talent would be able to find easier employment in the film industry.
Allyson Adams, a screenwriter and producer based in Virginia City, has written three award-winning screenplays, all of which take place in Montana. She’d like to keep production here too.
“It is my dream to shoot them here instead of Canada or New Mexico,” says Adams. “However, they both offer 25-35 percent film incentives. If Montana had a 25 percent cash back incentive then we could give our awesome state, economy, talent and crew a shot at bringing some of those productions here.”
Adams moved to Madison County in 1973, and in 2000 made a film about congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to hold an American federal office and the only U.S. congressional representative to vote against both world wars. Adams shot the film entirely in Virginia City and Nevada City and wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“It’s a perfect example of why Montana is such a beautiful place to make movies,” she says. “And I think we have the crown jewel of Montana in Virginia City and Nevada City.”
Adams wants people like her—Montana-based film producers—to have the opportunity to find work here in their state, rather than having to leave to find well-paid jobs or scraping by working multiple jobs while waiting for film opportunities to come to Montana.
“We have so much talent here,” she says. “Actors, filmmakers, writers, cinematographers, crews, everything. If we brought more films here, all of us could work more.”
Proponents say the bill will also create jobs statewide across a variety of industries, will boost Montana small businesses like restaurants, hotels and other services, and drive tourism. Rafter says that every project filmed in Montana is a postcard for the state.
“We want to keep Montana stories in Montana,” she says, “filming them in the real locations with Montana residents. Montana-made films resonate with the world.”
The MEDIA Act was first drafted in November and underwent final review in January. The state legislature heard the bill for the first time earlier this month and passed it into a committee for further review. The bill will likely be voted on later this legislative session.