Pitch for tax break for making movies, TV shows in Iowa

DES MOINES — A state tax rebate for film, TV and documentary productions may be modified and revived for a trial run after a 15 year hiatus.

Republican Representative Bobby Kaufmann, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is sponsoring a bill to create a two-year, $10 million pilot project to provide a 30% tax rebate for qualified expenses.

“I’ve been convinced by seeing movies that would have been filmed here going to other states and to other countries,” Kaufmann told Radio Iowa.

The State of Iowa’s previous tax incentives for TV and film productions were halted in 2009 after auditors found the majority of tax credits were misused. Iowa is now one of 13 states that do not offer tax incentives for film and TV productions.

Todd Rognes, chief administrative officer of Renovo Media Group in Clear Lake, told lawmakers today that Renovo recently helped produce a movie with a script partially set in Iowa, but Hollywood decision makers chose to have it filmed in Kentucky since that state provides tax incentives for filmmakers.

“States around Iowa — Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri — all have credits,” Rognes said. “Nebraska just rolled out a credit program.”

Rognes said “Wildcat” — a movie with stars Liam Neesen and Laura Linney that will be released in May — got $2 million in incentives from Kentucky. “So, ultimately we had to decide to not do it in Iowa and take it to Kentucky, so there are scenes in the film where the main character is walking through a park in Iowa City that we filmed in Louisville. There’s a scene with one of the main characters in a classroom in Iowa and we filmed it in Louisville,” Rognes said. “We would have loved to have done that here.”

Lisa Crnic, a Des Moines native, recently joined Renovo as its president after 17 years in Hollywood where she helped develop and produce hits like “Clifford, the Big Red Dog” and “The Smurfs” movie.

“I’ve been with Renovo for the last four or five months and, you know, we have all the relationships and the experience and whatnot to really bring high level films here,” she said, “but one of the first questions being asked by producers — and kind of the non-starter is: ‘What is your film incentive?’”

Crnic told lawmakers another movie they’d hoped to film in Iowa likely will be shot in Ireland, due to that country’s incentives for filmmakers.

“Another film we’re looking at called ‘The Great Nothing’ that we’re hoping to shoot in the fall and hopefully, you know, have this rebate in place and bring to Iowa — which the producers have said, ‘We’re happy to shoot this in Iowa’ — is a really heartfelt family film that Ryan Gosling’s looking at producing and starring in right now,” Crnic said.

Crnic and Rognes made their comments during a public presentation to members of the House Ways and Means Committee meeting on Wednesday.