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Hollywood, Indiana? How tax credits for filmmakers could help the state's economy rebound from COVID-19

Vandalized Hollywood sign now reads 'Hollyweed'
Posted at 12:41 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-25 12:41:07-05

INDIANAPOLIS – As the state continues to attempt its economic rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana lawmakers are looking for anything that could give it a boost over the next few years.

One idea that could get traction this year? New tax credits for film production taking place in Indiana.

Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, introduced a proposal that would create tax credits for companies when they create movies, TV shows and music videos in Indiana.

The film industry made $100 billion in revenue in 2019, and Cook believes Indiana could use some of that for an economic boost.

“With the hit that we’ve taken of $750 million from March to March in our event cancellations this year, I thought it was an opportunity to seize some of that monies that are going elsewhere,” Cook said.

Some popular movies made in Indiana include “Hoosiers,” “Rudy,” “Breaking Away” and “Columbus.”

Greg Sorvig, the artistic director at Heartland Film, said Indiana has an opportunity to create a long-lasting legacy through film. Heartland Film is a 30-year-old Indiana nonprofit that is best known for its annual festivals.

“It’s going to be onscreen to share with people forever,” Sorvig said. “Anytime there is anything associated, like when ‘Parks and Rec’ was filmed and they went to St. Elmo and Lucas Oil, people get excited. I think usually we have been very reactive as opposed to proactive.”

Of the 38 states with some kind of tax incentive for film or media production, the most famous recent success story is Georgia. Coming off the 2008 economic crisis, Georgia passed its tax credit program into law.

Big budget blockbusters like “Avengers Endgame” and TV hits like “Stranger Things” have been filmed in Georgia. Even during the pandemic in 2020, Georgia officials reported 234 film and TV productions. Those production companies spent $2.2 billion in the state in 2020. Sorvig said Georgia is now the “Hollywood of the South,” and a powerhouse in film production.

This is the fifth straight year such a proposal has been introduced in the Indiana legislature. So far, none of the efforts have been successful. Of the state’s 19 schools of film and media, most of the graduates leave Indiana for work, Cook said.

“It’s right, I think, for Indiana to take advantage and hopefully hire some workers,” Cook said. “The time is perfect and it’s something we should look at to bring more jobs in Indiana.”

In addition to the local workers, Sorvig said businesses, arts organizations and more would benefit from movies made in Indiana.

“Will we become Hollywood? No, and I don’t think we should expect that,” he said. “But we can create an industry that’s going to drive revenue, it’s going to bring in tourism, it’s going to create a legacy.”