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Vermont Filmmakers Fight for Tax Incentives

1 Nov , 2009  

Written by Kerry O’Donnell | Posted by:

The Vermont Film and Media Coalition’s Dan Mazur fights to lure filmmakers to the Green Mountain State.

Visit any state in the country where there has been debate over whether or not to pass motion picture tax incentives, and you’ll find the debate comes down to one major point of contention.

Opponents balk at the idea of giving away millions of dollars to out-of-state enterprises in tax credits and incentives. Proponents say that is not a valid argument because it is the credits that entice the productio n companies to come to the state. If a state offers, for example, a 25 percent tax credit, then that 25percent should not be classified as “lost revenue.’ Instead, the focus should be on the 75 percent tax revenue generated by productions that otherwise would not film in the state (as well as the other financial benefits brought into the state).

According to Dan Mazur, co-founder and vice president of the Vermont Film and Media Coalition (VTFMC), this was the scenario that played out during Vermont’s 2009 Legislative session. Mazur said the coalition was founded in January 2009 by a very diverse group of individuals who are involved in the industry and included Nathan Beaman, Emily Lyons, Peter Kent and Monica Cali.

“Our goal,” said Mazur, “was to present a case to the Legislature to provide a ‘carrot’ incentive to production companies so Vermont could compete. Vermont offers great location, rural character, and a large group of production talent.”

The group utilized an extensive e-mail list to help get the word out. They also testified in front of both House and Senate committees and even produced an incentive video with actor William H. Macy and writer/director Bobby Farrelly. Despite the coalition’s organization and hard work, House Speaker Shapleigh Smith removed the bill from the voting docket.

Mazur feels that the timing of this bill might have been part of its failure to thrive. “There were more pressing and press-worthy issues taking place during that session,” says Mazur. He also added that they were “shoe-horned” into the end of committee sessions where members would appear ready to don their coats and leave for the day. He also shared the feelings of demoralization, after working so hard and yet not to have been taken seriously, recognized as a legitimate industry, by many of the lawmakers.

The failure of the Vermont Legislature to enact tax incentives to attract film activity is forcing many of the state’s professional and dedicated individuals to take their talents to other states in order to find work and earn a paycheck. Production businesses are leaving the state and that, says Mazur, means lost revenue for Vermont. He plans on tracking just how much this lost revenue totals.

The exodus of talent has also meant the dissolution of the VTFMC, but Mazur is not giving up on the goal. “We’re in a regrouping stage right now. The first go-round was an education for us. We learned a lot about the legislative process, language of bill-writing and just how long the whole process actually takes.” The November elections also mean a changing political landscape, one which Mazur hopes will be more receptive to the coalition’s mission. He also feels that having an effective strategy and focusing more on educating the voters on the benefits of tax credits will help.

“We’re people who have a ton of passion and dedication” to their craft, says Mazur, “and we just want to be able to stay and raise our families here but also sustain a living.”

The Vermont Film and Media Coalition:
VTFMC Incentive Video:

The Vermont Film and Media Coalition: VTFMC Incentive Video: