Western US States

(Lean On Pete image: Scott Patrick Green)

Features and TV series head west for the iconic backdrops and a slice of 21st century Americana.

Spectacular natural locations and some generous incentives are among the attractions of the western region of the US. Among the drawbacks, though, are some meagerly or erratically funded incentive programmes and, in several states, underdeveloped infrastructure.

New Mexico was one of the first US states to offer film incentives and its 25% refundable tax credit is now one of the most reliable in the region — and in the entire US. In the 2017 fiscal year, New Mexico hosted 52 projects spending $505.2m in the state, a big increase over the 30 projects spending $387.2m in 2016. Recent visiting projects have included Patriot Pictures’ Running With The Devil, Sony Pictures’ features Only The Brave and Sicario: Day Of The Soldado, as well as the Netflix series Better Call Saul, HBO’s Succession and Annapurna Television’s The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs.

Oregon has one of the region’s faster growing production sectors. Since 2005, production spending has gone from $10m to $200m annually, and 16 major productions have shot so far from 2017-18 (compared to 10 in 2016-17). The state’s cash rebate incentive programme — which has a $14m annual cap — has recently attracted TV series including IFC’s Portlandia, TNT’s The Librarians, Alan Ball’s Here And Now for HBO and Netflix’s Everything Sucks, as well as independent features Lean On Pete directed by Andrew Haigh for Film4 and A24, Electric Entertainment’s Bad Samaritan and Sundance prize-winner I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore for XYZ Films.

Nevada usually attracts productions looking to do brief location shoots in and around the city of Las Vegas or in the hills and dry lake beds of the Great Basin and Mojave deserts. The most recent visiting projects have included independent feature Unwritten for Got Films and Netflix’s Black Mirror episode Black Museum. Production levels could pick up now that Nevada legislators have approved funding for the state’s tax credit programme — which had been unfunded since 2015 — of $10m a year.

Utah is another western state gaining industry ground, thanks to its strong incentives, proximity to Hollywood and its ‘right-to-work’ status.

Local production spending in 2017 was an estimated $74.5m (up from an estimated $48.7m in 2016), with HBO’s Westworld, Paramount Networks’ Yellowstone and Electric Entertainment’s The Outpost, and indie features Damsel for Strophic Productions and A24’s Hereditary, starring Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne, shooting in the state. Utah legislators had been considering a proposal to add another $5m to the state’s annual incentive funding of $8.3m, but this did not pass before the end of the state’s 2018 legislative session.

Oklahoma uses a generous incentive in the form of an easy-to-use 35% rebate to lure production work, with recent shoots having included Lionsgate’s I Can Only Imagine starring Dennis Quaid, and Ascension Media’s Christmas In The Heartland, starring Shelley Long and Bo Derek. But the reduction last year of the annual cap — from $5m to $4m on the Oklahoma incentive programme — may limit the state’s appeal to producers going forward.

The island state of Hawaii attracts film and TV productions requiring specific kinds of locations, notably jungle and beaches. Productions that have made the trip from the US mainland include Universal’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Sony Pictures’ Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle and Marvel’s Inhumans for ABC. Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Entertainment’s monster movie sequel Godzilla vs Kong was scheduled to shoot locally in November 2018.

Hawaii’s 20%-25% credit programme was recently extended to the end of 2025, but the state also imposed a $35m annual cap on the programme, which will start to take effect from next year.

The Lowdown – Hawaii

Financial incentives

A refundable tax credit on Hawaii expenditures — including non-resident wages, for the time the person is physically working in Hawaii — on qualified film, TV, commercial or digital media projects. The credit is 20% on Oahu, the most populous of the state’s islands, and 25% on the neighbouring islands, with a minimum in-state spending requirement of $200,000 and a per-project cap of $15m.

Full details  filmoffice.hawaii.gov/incentives-tax-credits

Infrastructure and crews

The workforce is three crews deep and the state has several local chapters of the major film labour unions. The state-owned Hawaii Film Studio in the capital city Honolulu has been occupied for the past eight years by TV series Hawaii Five-O. A former naval base was adapted into a studio for the production of Marvel’s Inhumans, but the longer-term future of the facility has not been confirmed. No other major studios are currently available, but the state is reportedly preparing to issue a request for proposals to develop a new studio complex on Oahu. Producers and production companies active locally include Maria Caprio, Angela M Laprete, Melissa Pawneshing and A2 Media.

Size matters

Hawaii takes in hundreds of volcanic islands spread over 1,500 miles in the Pacific ocean about 2,500 miles off the west coast of the US mainland. Honolulu International Airport on Oahu is the major commercial aviation hub, with flight times of five hours to Los Angeles and 10-and-a-half hours to Australia. Each of the eight main islands that make up the state of Hawaii are encircled by a system of state highways, though in some areas traffic can be slowed by narrow roads and congestion.

First person to call

Donne Dawson, state film commissioner, State of Hawaii Film Office.
T: +1 808 586 2570

The Lowdown – Oregon

Financial incentives

A 20% cash rebate on payments made to Oregon vendors for production-related goods and services (including payments to loan-out companies making less than $1m) and a 10% cash rebate of wages paid to resident and non-resident cast and crew for work done in Oregon. The labour portion of the rebate can be combined with an additional cash rebate of up to 6.2% of Oregon-based payroll offered under the Greenlight Oregon programme. Minimum direct local spend is $1m and there is no per-production cap.

Full details: Oregon Film

Infrastructure and crews

The state has a crew depth of around four, with heads of department available locally. There are no major studios, but smaller facilities include New Era Studios, Picture This Production Services & Stage and Cine Rent West. Local vendors include Koerner Camera Systems, said to be the largest west coast camera rental facility outside Los Angeles, Pacific Grip & Lighting and Gearhead. Local producers and production companies working with incoming projects include Filmscience, David Cress and Darren Demetre.

Size matters

One of the two US states making up the Pacific Northwest region of North America, Oregon occupies a large area — the state is 400 miles from its Pacific coastline west to east and 360 miles from north to south — but has a population of only 4 million. Portland, on the state’s northern border, is its largest city. Portland International Airport is a two-and-a-half hour flight from Los Angeles and five hours from New York, and offers non-stop international flights to Canada, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands and the UK.

First person to contact

Tim Williams of Oregon Film: tim@oregonfilm.org

The Lowdown – New Mexico

Financial incentives

A 25% refundable production tax credit with an additional 5% for qualifying TV series or payments on resident crew wages if a project uses a qualifying production facility in the state. Post-production done in New Mexico also qualifies for the 25% credit, even if the project is shot elsewhere. Annual programme cap of $50m.

Full details: New Mexico Film

Infrastructure and crews

Sound stage facilities include Albuquerque Studios, I-25 Studios in Albuquerque, Santa Fe Studios and Garson Studios in Santa Fe. The state has enough crews for about seven major productions and an established vendor base. Local production companies include Captivate Media, Fantome Films and Indie Productions.

Size matters

New Mexico is the fifth largest US state, with an area of 122,000 square metres. It is crisscrossed by highways and has major airports in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Roswell. Albuquerque and Santa Fe are about an hour’s drive apart and both are less than two hours by air from Los Angeles and six hours from New York.

First person to contact

Nick Maniatis of the New Mexico State Film Office: nicholas.maniatis@state.nm.us

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