Ohio’s Film Tax Credit: Boom or Bust?

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  • $20 million Ohio gives annually all allocated
  • Supporters say Ohio missing out on large movie projects
  • Opponents say movie studios not creating permanent jobs

Ohio is banking on the movies.

This year the Ohio Film Tax Credit will give away $20 million in tax credits to lure Hollywood film makers to Ohio.

To get the money, film makers start by filling out a four-page application showing how much they intend to spend in the Buckeye state.

The state reimburses production companies 25 percent of what they spend in Ohio on expenses and increases that to 35 percent for wages paid to Ohio residents.

But does giving the tax credits net Ohio anything in return?

A 2015 study by Cleveland State University says that for every $1 the state spends, $2 is created in economic activity.

But the conservative-leaning Buckeye Institute doesn’t see it as a boon for the state. The state is using taxpayer dollars and gives it to private companies that often leave Ohio when other states offer even more taxpayer dollars.

“Is there economic activity that comes? Sure. But it's also like a sugar high. It's like you eat a bunch of sugar, you get this nice stuff for however long they are there and then it usually goes away. Is this something that's permanent? That's going to create an ongoing benefit? Or do you have to basically seek the next sugar high from the next folks who come in?” Policy Analyst Greg Dawson with the Buckeye Institute said.

10 Investigates attempted to examine state audit reports for the projects receiving funds from the Ohio Film Office. However, the state redacts a lot of information about how many Ohioans they hire, citing Ohio law allows them to withhold the information.

The Ohio Office of Economic Development says independent auditing firms check the numbers for accuracy, as does the state budget office, agency spokeswoman Lyn Tolan said. She added that film makers only receive the credit after the project is complete.

But a review of the record shows the program is not without its problems.

10 Investigates discovered that “Captain America: Winter Soldier” received two tax credits  by calling itself two different production companies, titled “Freezer Burn” and “Vita Ray” productions.

Marvel Entertainment received a total of $8.2 million from Ohio , even though state law says the award must be capped at $5 million.

The state had no answer on why that film got more than the cap because it was under a prior administration. Meanwhile, the movie reportedly  grossed more than $500 million in just it’s first month at the box office.

The Ohio Film Tax Credit doesn't just go towards movies. It also goes to pay for video game production and television commercials.

Those that have applied and received the money include film makes of the Lebron James Nike commercial shot in Cleveland called the Huddle. That commercial earned more than $500,000 in tax credits.

A tax credit was also given to a video game maker to help fund a free game on the Internet in 2012. That game received $266,000 in tax credit, and is no longer available on the Internet.

There is no shortage on companies offering to take the money.  Tax credits for the 2015 fiscal year were all allocated in about three months. 

Some argue Ohio’s offering of $20 million a year is not enough. Since Ohio is currently not offering any more money for film production this year, the film commission believes Ohio is losing out on the next big Hollywood project.

“There are definitely several films that were going to shoot here that are not going to come now,” John Daugherty, Executive Director of the Greater Columbus Film Commission said.

Thirty-five of 50 states give money to studios to film in their states according to Film Production Capital.

“Michigan lost their tax credit last year. North Carolina's is cut back, Louisiana finally put a cap on their tax credit this year,” added Daugherty with the Greater Columbus Film Commission. “When a film is looking to shoot somewhere, one of the first things they ask is, ‘What's your tax credit?’ ”

It’s also a welcomed program for those who like to work in the movies but want to live in Ohio.

Columbus storyboard artist Chris Singleton has worked on “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” “Draft Day,” and “The Avengers” among other film projects. His storyboards bring screenwriter’s words into vision. Singleton’s storyboards provide more than a supplementary income. He believes his job is made possible through the Ohio Film Tax Credit.

“The tax credit is very beneficial to a lot of us just in the fact it requires so many productions from out of state to hire a certain amount of personnel from Ohio,” Singleton said.

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