Hooray for HatcHfest... and Montana's film industry

Recently Penny Ronning, founding goddess of HatcHfest and always a booster of the film industry in Montana, rallied the troops in support of a bill that gives tax incentives to moviemakers in Montana. Without passage of this bill, filmmakers had been diverting their attention and dollars to other venues, though Montana is often their first choice for its scenic beauty and very frequently the actual subject of films. Thanks to the efforts of Ronning and many others who support the lucrative film industry here, we could soon be seeing more of Montana on the big screen. Despite the concerns of some who resist "newcomers" and change, it seems to me that the non-polluting, promotional nature of the film industry is a great match for Montana.

Senate signs off on movie tax break

Source: Walt Williams of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Movie and TV productions will get a tax credit to film in Montana, just as long as they're not openly advertising tobacco products.

The Senate voted 30-20 Thursday to pass the "Big Sky on the Big Screen Act," a proposal by Gov. Brian Schweitzer to bring back the movie industry to the state by luring it with tax incentives.

"The business we are talking about here is a business we don't have," said Sen. Bob Hawks, D-Bozeman, who carried the bill on the Senate floor. "It's flying over."

The idea of House Bill 584 is to lure millions in movie revenue to the state and to advertise Montana's beauty to potential tourists on the big and small screens.

The latter had Sen. Dan McGee, R-Laurel, worried. People from out-of-state poured in after the release of "A River Runs Through It," driving up real estate prices in the Gallatin Valley and elsewhere, he said.

"Somebody came in from out of state, bought a piece of the last best place, and locked it up," he said.

One of the good things filmmakers have done is blow up a school in Great Falls, Sen. Don Ryan, D-Great Falls, said. Luckily it was an empty, unused school that was an eyesore. "It was a benefit for the community," he said.

Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, went to junior high at that school, and he saw the Charles Bronson action movie it was blown up for. "I watched that particular part of the video over and over and over again," he said.

But Balyeat couldn't vote for the bill. Local taxpayers were being asked to subsidize millionaires while being saddled with the highest state income taxes in the nation, he said.

The bill was nothing more than corporate welfare, Sen. Jerry O'Neil, R-Columbia Falls, said.

"It gives tax incentives to a select group of millionaires," he said.

O'Neil also tried to amend the bill so the credit wouldn't apply to films aiming for a R or NC-17 rating, but the amendment failed.

Democrats took the other side of the aisle to task for their accusations about corporate welfare. Sen. Ken Toole, R-Helena, read from part of a list of corporate tax breaks that came under GOP rule.

Those breaks have never shown to actually bring jobs to Montana, he said. The movie bill specifically targets those productions that hire Montanans.

Among the successful amendments to the bill was one denying the credit to filmmakers making tobacco advertisements. Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, suggested it because he didn't want the state sponsoring a problem it spends millions of dollars fighting.

But Esp wasn't able to amend the bill to to deny the credit to filmmakers who accept money from tobacco companies to put product placements in their films. Lawmakers said that was overreaching.

The House has already approved the bill, but before it goes to the governor's desk for signing, it must head back to the House for confirmation of the Senate amendments.

Written By:Greg Werner On May 17, 2005 10:51 PM

I think the passage of this legislation is a great thing because it opens the door and gets the state back in the game. Montana has a lot to offer in talent and settings. Bring 'em on!

Written By:Greg Werner On May 19, 2005 8:33 PM

There was a good crowd gathered on the street the other night when the Governor signed the bill into law. The Governor was quick and correct to point out that there was 'aisle crossing' in both houses that allowed passage of this important legislation. With activity will come reassessment. Perhaps the bill will become more favorable in the future and bring more activity to our state. Thanks to Patrick Markey and all the others who spearheaded the effort that reopened our states doors to this industry. Who will be the first to shout, "ACTION!"

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