It's late on Monday night, the legislative session is nearing its end, and the fate of the Minnesota Film and TV Board is still up in the air. With less than five minutes before midnight, a jobs bill makes it to the floor, and passes. The board is saved.
That's the short version of how Minnesota's ambassadors to the greater film and TV industry were saved from extinction. As long as Governor Mark Dayton signs this bill by Friday, MNFilmTV will be safe for another two years. But our nonprofit film commission shouldn't have to fight like this.
Minnesota's filmmaking industry relies on MNFilmTV. It brings in all kinds of productions (from Jingle All The Way to Dear White People), hooks up local industry professionals with jobs on those productions, and keeps our state highlighted on producer's maps. Less apparent, but no less vital, is its role in shaping the perceptions about Minnesota for the rest of the world.
So, lawmakers, please stop trying to kill it.
Back in April, the immediate future of MNFilmTV looked grim. While the Democrat-controlled Senate proposed increasing the funding for Snowbate -- the board's financial incentives program designed to entice movie and TV productions to bring business to Minnesota -- the Republican-controlled House had different plans.
"The jobs bill that passed in the House [in April] eliminated funding for our office, zeroed out our office, and also repealed the Snowbate statute, meaning the program wouldn't even exist on Minnesota's books anymore," says Lucinda Winter, executive director of the Minnesota Film and TV Board. "Forget being funded."
This drastic bill came after an audit noting the organization's unimpressive full-time job creation statistics. Yet, the report by James Nobles does not find this detail paramount.
"We found that the Legislature has not established clear outcomes it expects the board to achieve," reads the audit summary. It goes on to say that "the level and consistency of state funding are likely contributing factors" to the current limited job creation potential.
In other words, you can't criticize an office for not meeting goals that don't exist. Also, if the board received more money, Minnesota might actually be able to score the big-budget Hollywood movies we used to. Quality opinions aside, Minnesota could use more multimillion dollar films like the 1996 Schwarzenegger Christmas flick Jingle All The Way.
Out-Of-State Films Need Incentives To Not Shoot in Canada
Unfortunately, to draw projects that will provide a significant financial benefit to the state, we need more than 10,000 lakes and reliable snow. Canada has all of that plus better tax credits and reimbursement options. That's why we lost the Fargo TV series.
"We gave it a shot, we talked to FX, and we just did not have what they needed in terms of an incentive to even consider our state," says Winter of the TV series. Despite being set in Minnesota and based on the film by the Coen brothers, the show is back in Alberta, Canada shooting its second season.
Although MNFilmTV has lost a few productions due to insufficient funding, they've turned it around with the $10 million they received for 2014-15.
The award-winning satire Dear White People is one of the latest high-profile movies to shoot in Minnesota. In an interview with the Twin Cities Daily Planet in 2014, writer and director Justin Simien was very clear about why he chose our state.
"From a financial standpoint, the tax rebate or Snowbate was amazing and working with Lucinda [Winter] was very helpful," he said to the publication. When asked if Minnesota was his first choice for location? "Not really."
Minnesota Movies = Minnesota's Image
Minnesota has proven itself capable of handling all types of productions in terms of our film commission, workforce, infrastructure, and locations. Yet, many movies set in Minnesota -- like Juno, Leatherheads, and New in Town -- are shot elsewhere because they get a better deal. When that happens, our state doesn't simply lose out on money or recognition, we lose out on the chance to define ourselves.
Whether you like it or not, the way people think about Minnesota comes from the portrayal of our state in popular culture, especially movies and TV. If all the portrayals of Minnesota that the rest of world sees are filmed outside of our state, our image becomes diluted and separated from reality.
Purple Rain but First Avenue on the map, but what if it had been shot at the Roxy instead? Tourists still seek out the Mall of America and Mickey's Diner because of Jingle All the Way, The Mighty Ducks, and A Prairie Home Companion, but what if Charlie Conway's mom worked at a diner in Chicago? Of course people go to these places for other reasons, but these cinematic moments are inextricable from their history and allure.
More wide-release movies, TV shows, and other programs need to be made in Minnesota so we can update our image from one club, one diner, and one mall.
It's Not Over
One such movie is currently underway in the Twin Cities. Winter couldn't give many details since it hasn't been formally announced, but keep an eye out for a metro-based film to begin shooting the third week of June.
Beyond that, Winter is confident that Minnesota is still in the running for the new HBO series Stillwater set in -- you guessed it -- Stillwater.
Safe from extinction is not an ideal place to be when courting big-budget movies, so if we're going to bolster the local filmmaking industry and regain control over the portrayal of our own state, we need to support the Minnesota Film and TV Board. If you have a story about working on a set in Minnesota, share it with the board or your local representative. If you have a phone or computer, get in touch with the lawmakers and remind them that, even in the midst of transportation and education bills, this still matters.