How Maryland Democrats destroyed their state's thriving film industry

by CynthiaYockey on May 17, 2010

I was waiting for Dad at the dentist’s office this afternoon — there’s a root canal in his future — and I picked up the May 2010 issue of Baltimore magazine because a story about Maryland’s film industry caught my eye. Not too long ago, the Baltimore-Washington area was third in the country after Los Angeles and New York for film and TV production. However, thanks to Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and a Democratic-majority legislature full of believers in high taxes and big government — who also, disastrously, have no comprehension whatsoever of the concept of competition, or the remotest inkling that they were in one where the film business was concerned AND WINNING — Maryland’s film industry has been almost completely destroyed (boldfacing mine):

“You just feel like screaming,” says Pat Moran, Emmy Award-winning casting director for productions like The Wire and Liberty Heights, from her Canton office. “What they’ve done is taken a viable industry and they have managed to make it go away. I cannot tell you how many people [employed by the film industry] have moved out of town or taken work somewhere else.”

The targets of Moran’s ire are the state legislature and Governor Martin O’Malley, who control the funding level for the incentive program. For the coming fiscal year, the total incentive budget will remain steady at $1 million. In comparison, nearby Philadelphia, a city with similar architecture and neighborhoods to Baltimore, provides $42 million in funds, soon to increase to $60 million.

“If we had the support of the Governor,” Moran continues, “we’d have our incentive package. If I want to retire, it’s up to me to retire and close my shop. It’s not up to a government to run me out of business.”

Shaun Adamec, the Governor’s Press Secretary, calls the cuts “unfortunate” but “necessary.”

“The fact is, we’re working inside of a budget under the most challenging economic times since the Great Depression,” Adamec says, noting that O’Malley originally wanted to keep the tax incentives program funded at $2 million for the current fiscal year, before the legislature halved it. “Obviously it’s not as much as we’d want to put in that fund,” says Adamec, “[but] we need to make the tough choices in order to balance the budget.”

There are many in the film industry though, who see this philosophy as short-sighted, noting that the state is more than compensated for its initial investment.

It’s like, if I gave you one dollar and you gave me back 20 cents, you’d still have made 80 cents. But the state doesn’t think of it as making 80 cents. They just think, ‘Hey, we gave you 20 cents!‘” director Barry Levinson told Baltimore this past November when he was in town for a Maryland Film Festival fundraiser at MICA. Indeed, an economic report filed by Sage Policy Group in January calculates that every million made available for film rebates pumps $5 million into the local economy.

But that’s only if filmmakers shoot here in the first place. Lately, given how meager Maryland’s incentives are compared to other states, they can’t, no matter how much they want to. For instance, John Waters, a man whose entire career is based on mining Baltimore’s peculiarities, may shoot his next film, Fruitcake — a children’s movie about two runaways in Remington — in Michigan.

The entire movie business has collapsed in Maryland,” says Waters. “I’m not saying I am [going to film in Michigan]. I had to finally, about eight months ago, say to the producers I would, if I had to. The thought of shooting in Michigan or some state that can look like Maryland is insane to me, but I’m a realist.”

The whole story is worth reading — click the link above — and pay special attention to the resourcefulness of Maryland’s Film Office’s DEEM program, which is an effort to take many of the professionals involved in film and TV production and re-direct their careers into creating video games and digital media. They’ll be fine unless they really start to thrive — under Gov. O’Malley, Maryland also has raised taxes on its millionaires, thus encouraging many of them to leave the state.

P.S.

John Waters and Barry Levinson both are from Baltimore and their careers are highly identified with Baltimore and Maryland — they are favorite sons in these parts and names to conjure with.

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  • telecommutenow

    You need to look at the whole picture here. I was involved in working on this and at one point i proposed that any film made in maryland PAY NO TAXES ( no FICA, no sales tax, no income tax, no nothing). I was told that was not enough compared to other states. Basically Michigan and Penn are taking an investor’s position with no “back end” return. Their investment EXCEEDS the amount of taxes a film production would have paid. Its a bigger subsidy than Virginia is giving Northup Grumann. You should not compete with crazy people bent on wasting money.

    • telecommutenow,

      Look at the math again in Barry Levinson’s comment — getting four dollars back for every one you invest is a handsome return. There’s also the consideration of the contribution employed people make to the tax base. Jobs are hard to create, but easy to destroy. Democrats wiped out Maryland’s film industry in less than six years and it will take longer than that to rebuild it.

      Money doesn’t come from rich people. It comes from creativity and rewards that are connected to your efforts. The Democrats destroyed a thriving industry in our state because they think money comes from rich people, not creativity, and they broke the connection between rewards and efforts. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!

      Cynthia

  • Syd

    Thankfully, Mississippi is going the other way, thanks to the leadership of our incredible Governor. Dreamworks just announced that they will be filming The Help in our state. It’s a big deal for us.
    .-= Syd´s last blog ..I’ll let you know if it’s accepted =-.

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