Monday, June 15, 2009

Making Movies in the Inland Northwest

This past Thursday we had our monthly KNIFVES luncheon (KNIFVES is a movie networking group in the inland northwest, found at The purpose of this luncheon was to discuss what happened in the Idaho state legislature to fund the already-passed filmmaking incentives (rebate) program that Idaho has.

It was a lively meeting. We had legislators there from every level in Idaho - federal, state, county and city. As I listened to the information, it dawned on me that both sides - the legislators and the movie making people - had some misconceptions.

On the legislative side: the legislators haven't yet funded the rebate program in part because they apparently believe that funding will cost Idaho money. In reality, however, the funding is like a trust fund and the movie people need to spend the money before it can be rebated. The way I understood it, and based on a conservative analysis, the money rebated is recouped - in taxes, and not just indirect investment into the community - by at least a 1.5 times margin. For example, if $100,000 is rebated, $150,000 already has been gathered in state and local taxes. And this formula does not incorporate the overall financial shot in the arm that the local communities and businesses will get wherever the filming takes place.

On the movie industry side: the movie folks stopped coming to Idaho after "Dante's Peak," a movie with Pierce Brosnan (oh, btw, I was an extra on that movie!) after other states gave them incentive/rebate programs and Idaho did not. But what I realized, as I listened to the various people at the luncheon, is that Idaho is being written off out of hand even though making a film in Idaho is likely cheaper in terms of overall costs than making a film in other states.

My conclusion: Idaho needs to fund its incentive program. Movie people need to look at the details of costs.

And then there is the issue of Washington's program. In Washington, as I understand it, the incentives/rebate program is alive and kicking (and improved, after this most recent legislative session), but there is a rule against using non-Washington residents on "below the line" (as opposed to "above the line" producers and directors etc.) workers. (Gosh, I hope I'm getting these terms right.) (This "above" and "below" issue was just passed in the most recent legislative session, as I understand it.) What that means is that, for any incentive-oriented movie set, no one from Idaho - or anywhere else, for that matter - can be employed for it if their work is "below the line," even though they may have the proper movie-making experience. Actually, I guess the defining feature is that the film company must make "every effort" to hire locals for crew, actors and support staff. (My guess is that the definition of "actors" is extras.) Here's a link to the Washington program rules. (FYI - the site at that link may be updated after July 1, when the new laws go into effect.)

Idaho is different. In Idaho, only a third of the "below the line" employees need to hail from Idaho.

So here was my idea: if Idaho funded its incentive program, the state of Washington could pass a law that allowed for reciprocity in employment with Idaho people. The Idaho law already provides that kind of reciprocity by the natural structure of the law.

In Washington, it has been our area of the state that has taken advantage of the WA incentives program. Rich Cowan, who runs North by Northwest (a movie production company working on national projects,, has used the program wisely, and only recently have some Seattle film companies begun to take advantage of it. From what I've been told, Rich has a Boise office and is poised to do work in Idaho if that darn incentives/rebate program would just get funded.

I do have an ulterior motive. The script I've just written (that I started in Paul Castro's workshop this past March) right now is based in the beautiful rural northern Idaho. It's relatively inexpensive to make - or so Paul believes, and my gut tells me he's right - and I'd love to see it made up this way, since I first began writing in Sandpoint, Idaho, where the workshop was.

There was a nice article about KNIFVES in the Coeur d'Alene Press newspaper this past Sunday. But even there, the reporter talked about the incentives program as though it would cost the state of Idaho financially, rather than cause a net gain. We really need to correct that perception. And maybe movies will never be made in Idaho - though the time we had on "Dante's Peak" was a blast, and the film group seemed more than satisfied with the whole set up, and we were cheap extras, and it really should be repeated now...

The Idaho Film Office did give me permission to post a few photos from the website,, of some of the beauty of this region. Here goes -

Spirit Lake, near Coeur d'Alene

Cataldo Mission, on National Register (also near Coeur d'Alene)

Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced Ponderay), up by Sandpoint

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