Home > JoeRants > Why no one films in Arkansas / Why Arkansas Filmmaking is Great

Why no one films in Arkansas / Why Arkansas Filmmaking is Great

November 1, 2011

About once a year I get interviewed about how wonderful the Arkansas filmmaking tax incentives are and that movies should be knocking on the Arkansas border any day now. Here’s what I usually say that gets cut out because it’s not the story the reporter wants to tell – the tax credits in Arkansas aren’t wonderful compared to other states, and the only people who film in Arkansas are people from here who know how good it is. The last interview I did didn’t even get made into a story, I assume because they realized that there was no story there.

Let’s start with the incentives, then move on to the other problems:

Arkansas has a 15% tax incentive, with a 10% bonus labor incentive for hiring Arkansans. Here’s a link to why Iron Man 3 decided to film in North Carolina.

Yes, North Carolina’s incentive is 25%. The article also mentions that for independent (not huge budget) films, California has a 25% percent tax incentive. That means it’s a stronger tax incentive for the low budget films that might come to Arkansas just to stay in California. Or they could go to Louisiana, which has a 30% incentive. Whenever anyone talks about our tax incentive, yes we have one, but it’s amongst the lowest in the nation. Our tax incentive is so low, it’s actually a disincentive. It’s better than 0%, certainly, but not really.

No one’s going to come to Arkansas based on the tax incentive unless we raise it to compete with other states. And that’s not likely to happen because a) no one seems that interested in doing it and b) the financial reports that show the value of giving productions tax incentives are questionable. I’m working second hand (I haven’t read the reports myself), but it seems the financial gain for a state is a lot less than the popular reports show – there’s a lot of double-dip reporting of gains, and other questionable methods of showing how much money a film crew brings to a state.

The second reason no one is coming here: sound stages. We don’t have any. Not of any substantial size like a large film needs (think air hanger). There’s nowhere for films to shoot unless they’re shooting on location. And that’s, again, where low budget films shoot, and again, there’s no reason for them to leave California where the tax incentive is better.

But you and I know that Arkansas is a great place to shoot – it’s beautiful, the people are amazing, and there are good crews ready to shoot. So how do I find that out? Let’s look at the website.

If you do a google search for Arkansas Tax Incentives, the top two sites are from SAG and filmproductioncapital.com. The third one is our site.  And they must have changed it at some point, because the links from the other sites to the Arkansas Film Commission are broken. When you look at the links for other states, the URL is “Alaksafilms.org” and “Filminmaine.com.” Ours is “arkansasedc.com/arkansas-film-commission.aspx.” Seriously, do you want people to find us? And what is “.aspx?”

Now, if you google “Arkansas Film Commission” you will find our site. Have you looked at it? You should. It looks a lot like what you expect the AFC site to look like if you’re from outside Arkansas, meaning that it looks like they just discovered the internet and haven’t quite figured it out, yet.  Even the guy at the top of the page looks like he’s doing ENG for Fox-16. His microphone is on the camera. Nothing says “professionals come here” like shooting video and not having a sound guy. It’s a stock photo of a video guy. sigh.

And then there’s the long, uncategorized lists that are hard to dig through. Beyond looking cheap because it’s undesigned, you have to dig through lots of tiny photos to see anything. It’s kind of a mess.

As a UCA faculty member, I have a dog in this race, but “resources” seems a bit… off.  Are production companies really looking for teenage film camps and festivals in Arkansas? And not the crew database, which has a link submit your name for inclusion, but doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the page?

None of this should be taken as a slam against Christopher Crane, our Film Commissioner, by the way. He seems like a good, enthusiastic guy who loves what he gets to do. But obviously, the man needs some resources.

It’s a shame, because the only people who film in Arkansas are the people who already know how good Arkansas is. Harry Thomason, Graham Gordy, Jeff Nichols. It’s all people who are from here. We lost “True Grit” and that’s a story about Arkansas!

So what does this mean? It means that the only films that are realistically going to be made in Arkansas are the ones that we make. We are the film industry. That’s what I told the last interviewer, and I know it to be true: there are a TON of great filmmakers making great films in Arkansas, and every time you go chasing after the Hollywood films, you’re telling the wrong story. It’s not about the films that will come to Arkansas – they won’t! It’s about the films that are being made right this second under your nose. Look around and see the stories being told every day. THAT’S the Arkansas film industry.

If Arkansas wants to incentivize filmmaking in Arkansas, they should incentivize the local filmmakers. The $30,000 filmmaking grants that Bob Pest and the Ozark Foothills Film Festival gave earlier this year was a start – let’s see that continue. And expand! The future of Arkansas filmmaking belongs to Arkansans. Let’s invest in that!

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  1. November 1, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Well said…

  2. November 2, 2011 at 8:09 am

    Great blog. And true. I’ve been talking to distributors/production companies lately and a lot of them are aware of Arkansas’ beauty, some of them are aware of the talent in our state, but none of them plan to shoot here because of the tax incentive. Regarding local filmmakers, you are also correct. We have some awesome people working on various projects. They get little or no support from the film “industry” here, but there’s a ton of support from other filmmakers, actors, crew, etc. Yes, there are small “cliques”, but for the most part, filmmakers in Arkansas are glad to help other filmmakers. And that’s how we’re getting things done.

  3. November 2, 2011 at 10:42 am

    That was my take when we made “Luigi’s.” Having made films in Southern California and New York, I was BLOWN AWAY with the support from the community – filmmakers and just people wanting to help. My standard comment when people ask about how we made a feature film for so little money is “I had to come to Arkansas to make a feature – who knew?” :)

  4. Anonymous
    March 8, 2012 at 5:17 am

    Thanks Joe for being blunt. The govenor should get a copy of this.

    Casey

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