The film industry quietly has become a significant contributor to the Inland Northwest economy by generating millions of dollars annually and raising the regions profile.
Beyond the prestige and glamour, each major motion picture filmed here can pump $1 million to $4.5 million into the economy, says Suzy Kellett, managing director of the Washington state Office of Film, which helps recruit film projects.
It could be more, because theres no law that says film companies have to report whats spent, she says. These dollars are spent in the community.
Robin Toth, an economic planning specialist with the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, says a 20-person production crew from out of town generally spends about $4,000 a day here. That figure covers lodging, rental cars, food, shopping, and other expenses.
If you consider 21 days of filming, thats a substantial amount, Toth says, explaining that film projects generally take about three weeks.
Rich Cowan, CEO of North by Northwest Productions Inc., a Spokane-based production company, says that movies generate between $50,000 and $100,000 a day spent with local companies and in hiring temporary workers. That figure includes wages, equipment rentals, and other expenses. North by Northwest makes its own movies, helps others make movies, and also does TV ads and industrial films for businesses. It employs 40 people, plus contract labor, Cowan says.
We average about three films a year, Cowan says of the films the company either works on or produces itself. Weve done about 20 films in the last eight years.
Money isnt the only measurable benefit of having movies filmed here.
These films are shown all over the world, Cowan says. Its like a video for the Spokane chamber of commerce.
Recently, movie star Cuba Gooding Jr. finished filming scenes here for the movie End Game, a political thriller about the assassination of a U.S. president, says Tay Voye, general manager of North By Northwest. Gooding, James Woods, and Burt Reynolds will appear in scenes shot in Spokane.
Also, in December martial arts star Chuck Norris wrapped up filming of The Cutter, which is set in Spokane and has yet to be released. In it, Norris plays a private investigator hired to find a kidnapped diamond cutter.
Northwest By Northwest was involved in making both that film and End Game. The two projects have given those involved in the film industry here optimism that Hollywood will continue to pick Spokane as a filming location.
Over the last 20 years, more than two dozen movies have been filmed in the Inland Northwest, including the comedy Bennie & Joon, the coming of age film Vision Quest, the Robin Williams film Toys, the natural disaster movie Dantes Peak, plus Hangmans Curse, The Postman, Shadow of Fear, and Mozart and the Whale.
Pend Oreille County is one of the poorest counties in the state, and The Postman left $12 million there, Kellett says. Those dollars were spent directly into that countys economy.
The state Office of Film, part of the Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development, says the entertainment industry spent about $13 million across the state last year. In Spokane, it spent between about $2.6 million and $3.3 million, Kellett says.
A few communities are vital to our overall success, and Spokane is one of them, she says. It can be hit or miss waiting for the big films, but weve found that a lot of money comes from smaller movies, documentaries, commercials, industrial films. Spokane is a more consistent producer of those.
In addition to North By Northwest, other production companies here include I.L.F. Media Productions, Hamilton Photography & Film Co., Mortimore Productions Inc., and Digital Itch.
The market is becoming more and more specialized, says Mike Bold, owner of Digital Itch, which does commercial graphics. I am one of the only independent graphic guys in Spokane. There are audio specialists, and video specialists, depending on the type of work that is needed.
On the surface, the Inland Northwest doesnt necessarily seem like a destination for filmmakers. Yet, Kellett, Toth, and Cowan say production costs here are much lower than in big northern cities such as New York or Chicago, and Spokane can serve as a substitute for such cities, Cowan says.
Spokane can stand in for lots of different cities because we have very interesting and diverse architecture, Cowan says.
Spokane also isnt too far off the beaten path, Cowan says.
Getting here isnt a problem, because there are direct flights to and from Los Angeles, Cowan says. Logistically, Spokane is an easy place to make a movie. Its nice having a place like Spokane because most of these locations (here) are in a compact area. Making a film is like moving an army, and 90 percent of the locations are a couple of miles from our office, so its easy to mount a production here.
Spokane strives to make the city attractive for film productions, says Toth. Several people at City Hall can help facilitate special permits. We feel weve set up a nice program for the film industry to come here, she says. Were trying to attract as much film and video work in Spokane as possible.
Film companies pay the city to provide traffic control and other services. For example, traffic control by the police for an action movie can cost a film between $20,000 and $50,000, Toth says.
Jeanna Hofmeister, director of destination marketing at the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, says residents here are cooperative with filmmakers. Hofmeister promotes the Inland Northwest to the film industry at trade shows.
Recruiting the film industry here, however, might be a luxury that the state can no longer afford. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoires budget proposal calls for the elimination of the state film office. Its not known what effect, if any, that action would have on film production here. Kellett declines to comment on the proposal, but at least one production company here isnt thrilled about it.
In general, its not good for the film industry in the state of Washington, says Cowan. It may hurt us a little less than companies on the other side of the state. It sends a message to producers and the production community that shooting films in the state is not a priority.
Ed Penhale, a spokesman for the state budget office, says the governor believes the entertainment industry would continue to flourish in the state without the film office.
Basically, her decision to eliminate that program is her belief that the actual scenery of Washington and other attributes are the things that attract films and TV commercials here, not the film office, says Penhale. We dont believe the film office has a direct impact on a number of these projects. What were hearing is what these outside groups need are incentives, not the film office.
Gregoire has proposed spending $75,000 to study possible incentive programs, Penhale says.
Competition for film-industry dollars has increased dramatically in the last five years, Kellett says. She, Cowan, and Toth say other countries, such as Canada, and other states have attracted more TV shows and films because they offer tax incentives and other benefits. As a result, the states film industry revenues have fallen considerably, Kellett says.
Many states have major incentives, such as rebates and tax credits, Kellett says. Were trying to get something done in the Legislature but I dont know if its possible. Weve been working on this for the last six to eight months.
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