MOVIES

Strong Tax Incentives May Be Enough for Hollywood to Stay in States Restricting Abortion Access

Hollywood has big decisions to make about where it’s willing to do business following Friday’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Abortion is now almost completely banned in Louisiana and Oklahoma, two states that have been successful in courting productions through tax incentives. And in Georgia — the most important production hub outside of New York and Los Angeles — the procedure is expected to be severely restricted soon.

Louisiana and Oklahoma had so-called “trigger” bans on abortion in place, laws prohibiting the vast majority of access to the procedure that immediately snapped into effect when the Supreme Court struck down Roe. The other states with trigger bans on abortion that kick in immediately or in the coming weeks are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming.

The high court’s decision comes after another on Thursday, which reduced states’ ability to enact gun control, another topic that has sparked major debate in Hollywood.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller was among those who quickly called for Hollywood to exit Georgia Friday.

But economics are not on the side of those who would like to see studios quit the Peach State. Georgia’s attempts to restrict abortion in 2019 didn’t deter Marvel, Tyler Perry, and other major studios from doing business there, for example. That so-called “heartbeat bill” was struck down as unconstitutional, but it’s now expected to get the OK by a lower court after Friday’s Supreme Court decision.

Another piece of controversial legislation, the 2021 voting law, didn’t deter production activity there either. In fact, spending increased in the 2021 fiscal year, jumping 38 percent to $4 billion compared to 2019. Georgia hosted 366 film, TV, commercial, and music video productions in FY 2021, according to state data.

There are two key reasons. Georgia has among the country’s most generous tax credit programs. Productions can get up to 30 percent back on their spending in the state and the incentive is uncapped: The government hands out as many credits as there are qualifying productions, issuing $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2021. By comparison, California and New York’s programs issue less than half that.

"Spider-Man: No Way Home"

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” was shot at Trilith Studios in Fayetteville, Georgia.

Sony

The size and scope of Georgia’s program has led it to become a full-fledged Hollywood East over the last two decades. Increasingly generous incentives have led to massive investment in infrastructure like sound stages, while a large base of crew call the state their home.

Those factors make extracting the industry from Georgia all but impossible. Studios could leverage their economic might and use their bully pulpits to rally against Georgia’s restrictions, but the fact is the state has the upper hand. Just take a look at what happened when Disney pushed back against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Disney is the state’s largest private employer, but it’s not like the company could pick up the 39-square mile Disney World complex and drop it in a bluer state. So the Republican-controlled government punished the company for speaking out by stripping the complex of its special tax status. And Georgia has already issued warning shots to companies that advocate against state policies.

There’s a better chance that with enough protest, studios might rethink continued investment in Louisiana and Oklahoma, whose emerging popularity as a filming destination makes them far less entrenched in the way Hollywood does business.

When it comes to production incentives, Georgia is unrivaled. Here’s a look at six top states’ incentive programs, infrastructure, and abortion access.

California

While Georgia officials tout the state as the world’s most popular filming location, California remains the entertainment industry’s home base, despite its less favorable tax incentives. Production infrastructure plays a big role — it has the most sound stage space of any state, 5.2 million square feet in 2018, according to a FilmLA study. But Georgia is catching up: As of last April the state had 1.8 million square feet of stages with another 1 million that were planned to be built within a year, according to the state.

In the face of that competition, California Gov. Gavin Newsom last July signed into law an expansion of the state’s film and TV tax credit, raising it to $660 million for at least two years. A portion of that new funding was meant to build or revamp stages.

The efforts may have already paid off: The state in October awarded credits two Disney+’s “The Mysterious Benedict Society,” and ABC’s “Promised Land,” prompting them to relocate from Vancouver and Georgia, respectively.

Abortion rights are among the most secure of any state. It already has abortion protections in place, and the Legislature has introduced a constitutional amendment that explicitly enshrines the right to the procedure.

New York

The Empire State was a close second to California in the number of theatrical productions in 2018, according to FilmLA, and it remains a hugely popular location for television production. That year it had a similar amount of stage space as Georgia, and a broad crew base in the Tri-state area.

The state offers a 25 percent tax credit with a cap of $420 million per year.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared New York a “safe harbor” for abortion, after the Legislature earlier this year passed bills meant to strengthen abortion protections. The procedure has been legal in the state since 1970, three years before Roe.

"The Flight Attendant"

Production of “The Flight Attendant” relocated from New York to California for its second season.

Phil Caruso

Massachusetts

New York’s eastern neighbor was the fourth-most popular state for theatrical production in 2018, according to FilmLA, though its 10-film output was dwarfed by number-three Georgia’s 36 features.

The Bay State has seen production spending rise since it introduced a tax credit program in 2006, with a particular strength in attracting awards films: Best Picture winner “CODA” was shot there, so was “Belfast,” “Knives Out,” “Don’t Look Up,” and “Manchester by the Sea.” The current program has no cap, and offers a 25 percent production credit, 25 percent payroll credit, and a sales-tax exemption.

Stage space has doubled over the last year, while the local crew and talent base continues to grow, Variety reported. Part of that is fed by the graduates from Boston numerous schools, including Emerson College.

Abortion rights are secure in the state, whose Legislature has long been controlled by a Democratic supermajority. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday issued an executive order hours after the Supreme Court decision, which shields abortion providers from consequences of providing care to out-of-state patients whose home states have banned abortions.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma has big ambitions to become the next production hub. Last year the state nearly quadrupled its incentive program, part of a multi-pronged effort that also includes workforce development and infrastructure investment that includes the conversion of a convention center in Oklahoma City into sound stages.

The program offers productions up to a 38 percent rebate on money they spend in Oklahoma, though with a particularly un-generous cap of $30 million. The new program coincided with a sunsetting of a 20-year-old program, which was successful after a tweak that helped attract projects like “Minari,” FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” and Martin Scorsese’s upcoming $200 million epic “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Oklahoma film boosters dream of attracting another “Flower Moon,” after decades of their state’s production activity largely limited to indies set in the Sooner State. But given its status as an emerging hotspot, that might be in jeopardy if studios get enough flack about their business there.

Almost all abortions are now banned in Oklahoma. A law went into effect Friday after the Supreme Court decision that calls for fines and prison time for anyone who performs the procedure, with an exceptions for abortions performed to save the mother’s life.

Tim Beach stands in front of the Tulsa Women's Clinic with a sign celebrating the end of Roe v. Wade Friday, June 24, 2022 in Tulsa, Okla. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years — a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases. Friday’s outcome overturning Roe v. Wade is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

Anti-abortion activists celebrated Friday’s decision outside the Tulsa Women’s Clinic in Tulsa, Oklahoma Friday.

Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP

Louisiana

Louisiana has found success in attracting production since first introducing incentives in 2002. Recent projects include “Bill and Ted Face the Music,” the Tom Hanks-starrer “Greyhound,” and the new “Jay and Silent Bob” movie.

The most qualified productions — those that rely heavily on local crew and creative — can get up to 40 precent in tax credits. The cap is $150 million annually. According to state data, crew base has grown four times since 2002 and includes 1,250 union members.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier this week signed into law an almost complete ban on abortion that went into effect when Roe was overturned. Providers could face up to 15 years in prison for performing abortions, with exceptions only for medically futile and ectopic pregnancies. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Such extreme restrictions could encourage productions to choose other states, especially as the number with tax-credit programs is increasing.

New Mexico

Netflix and NBCUniversal are among the media giants who have invested big in studio space in New Mexico, made more affordable by cheaper land and generous tax incentives.

Thee state offers a maximum credit of 35 percent. It doubled its annual cap in 2019 to $110 million, helping spur infrastructure investment. Recent projects include “Better Call Saul,” Searchlight’s Eva Longoria-directed “Flamin’ Hot,” and Prime Video’s “Outer Range.”

Abortion is legal in New Mexico, and it’s expected to stay that way. The state has recently seen an uptick in women from neighboring conservative states travel to New Mexico for the procedure — and they’re expecting it to increase. Over 5,800 abortions were performed in New Mexico in 2020, a 32-percent increase compared to the year before, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Continuing a recent trend, more states are getting on the tax-incentive bandwagon. Rhode Island lawmakers are considering increasing their state’s cap (abortion is protected there). And the Arizona Legislature on Friday approved the state’s first-ever incentive program (a 15-week abortion ban is expected to go into effect later this year).

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button