Film unions hail expansion of Oregon tax credit

Image from the Grimm episode “Lycanthropia”
Image from the Grimm episode “Lycanthropia”

Unions representing Oregon workers in film and television are celebrating the expansion of the state’s Film & Video Tax Credit. Last year, the Oregon Legislature renewed the $10-million-a-year tax credit program through Jan. 1, 2024. This year, they expanded it — increasing the cap to $12 million in 2016 and $14 million in 2017 and thereafter. Both moves were uncontroversial, passing with just seven no votes in the Legislature.

The tax credit costs the Oregon treasury, but its supporters — including the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG/AFTRA) and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Studio Mechanics Local 488 — say it incentivizes TV and film productions to choose Oregon. Oregon competes with as many as 30 other states for TV and film work with tax and other public subsidies.

The way Oregon’s program works, the state conducts an annual online auction of tax credits. High-income individuals who pay Oregon personal income tax buy the credits at between 95 and 99 percent of their value and pocket the savings. The proceeds are then divvied out as cash rebates for up to 20 percent of the cost of production-related goods and services purchased from Oregon vendors — plus up to 10 percent of wages paid to production personnel. Only big productions, those that spend at least $1 million in Oregon, are eligible for the subsidies.

IATSE Local 488 Business Manager Charlie Carlsen said tax subsidies are a big part of location choices today.

“It’s become such a competitive industry for that,” Carlsen said. “It’s corporate welfare. We don’t like it, but if Oregon doesn’t do it, we can’t compete.”

But as subsidies go, Carlsen says, the Film & Video Tax Credit gets good value: It supports a clean industry with good-paying union jobs. Members of Local 488 earn about $29 an hour, and with overtime can gross $60,000 to $70,000 a year. Carlsen himself works on the set of the TV show Grimm, handling plants. Besides Local 488, Grimm employs members of Teamsters Local 305, SAG/AFTRA, the Writers Guild, and Directors Guild of America.

Grimm has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Oregon Film & Video Tax Credit, receiving about $3 million in the last five years — while spending roughly $300 million in Oregon.

Other beneficiaries include the film Wild, the IFC show Portlandia, and the upcoming TNC show Librarians, which starts filming this month. And Beaverton-based animation studio Laika, maker of movies like the Box Trolls.

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