Actors, producers and screenwriters testify for bill to lure movie/TV productions to Nebraska

Bill comes as audit says Georgia, with the nation’s highest film incentives, is losing money on its program

By: - February 21, 2024 6:37 pm
Shelby Hagerdon

Shelby Hagerdon, an animation producer and writer from Lincoln, testified Wednesday in favor of providing greater tax incentives for film and television production in Nebraska. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Nebraska could become the next “Y’allywood” with the right tax incentives for film and television production, a committee of state legislators was told Wednesday.

Travis Beck, a film location scout who grew up in Lincoln, said $70 million was recently spent in Montana to film a season of the television show, “Yellowstone.”

“We could have filmed that here,” Beck said, if Nebraska had provided financial help for film crews.

State Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue.  (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Under Legislative Bill 1022, the Cast and Crew Nebraska Act, that could happen. It would provide a production company with refundable income tax credits of 20%. The total credits would be capped at $25 million a year.

State Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue, who introduced the bill, said that Nebraska is  currently at the bottom of states that provide film incentives, and that such incentives could help keep young people from leaving the state to pursue careers in the movie industry.

‘Y’allywood’ is Hollywood in Georgia

“Y’allywood” refers to Georgia, a state that Sanders said was the “model” for what movie-making incentives can accomplish.

The Peach State has gone all-in to lure Hollywood productions, providing a record $1.3 billion in incentives in 2022, the most of any state.

An audit reported that nearly 35,000 jobs a year are created in Georgia, but it also said the incentives return just 19 cents in benefits to Georgia for every $1 spent, according to Variety.

That report didn’t come up during a public hearing before the Legislature’s Revenue Committee.

Sanders, after the hearing, said each state measures the benefits of its programs differently.

In New Mexico, the senator said, the return on investment from tax credits for films was $7.77 for every $1, with the incentives supporting 8,000 jobs and providing direct and indirect economic impacts of $3.8 billion over the past three fiscal years.

In addition, the Oklahoma film industry brought an estimated $200 million in direct economic impact in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, according to the Tulsa World, and helped provide about 15,000 jobs.

Prefer to stay here

A crew of actors, producers and writers who grew up in Nebraska testified in favor of the proposal, saying they would have preferred to stay in the state to pursue their dreams.

Katy Bodenhamer
Katy Bodenhamer. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Katy Bodenhamer, an actor who has appeared in “The Office” and Mel Gibson’s latest movie, “Desperation Road,” said she moved back to her hometown of Hershey after living 13 years in Hollywood, although she still flies back to California for roles.

She said that many in the movie business want to move away permanently, for better living conditions. She said the proposed incentives would help her, and young college graduates, to stay in Nebraska.

Maher Jafari, a writer, producer and director who grew up in Omaha, said states that don’t provide tax incentives are “off the board” when projects decide where to shoot films and television shows.

Jafari and others said the time is right to provide incentives for moviemaking because the movie industry is “decentralizing” and seeking to tell stories that aren’t based on either coast.

Even Douglas County Sheriff Aaron Hanson testified in favor of the bill, saying the film industry provides many jobs for skilled trades, including electricians and carpenters, good-paying jobs that help lift people out of poverty.

The Revenue Committee took no action on LB 1022 after the hearing.

Nebraska has, in recent years, provided direct grants for a couple of film projects.

A movie about Standing Bear, the Ponca chief whose legal battle in 1879 led to recognition of Native Americans as “human beings” under the law, got a $5 million grant.

The state also granted $5 million to a Dallas-based production company to create a documentary highlighting the history and mission of the U.S. Strategic Command.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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