Monday, January 29, 2018

OCPA's Small: Foolish Hollywood Handouts


Foolish Hollywood handouts
by OCPA President Jonathan Small

Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein may face criminal charges from Los Angles to London. If he does, he can pay part of his legal bills with money from Oklahoma taxpayers.

That’s right. Oklahomans subsidized the making of the 2013 Weinstein-produced and -distributed film August: Osage County to the tune of $4.6 million.

Perhaps fittingly for a film associated with Weinstein, August: Osage County managed to cover most of the family dysfunction bases, from suicide and addiction to incest and child molestation. If it was meant to showcase Oklahoma, where the film was set and made, thus qualifying it for that subsidy from the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, it wasn’t a success.

August: Osage County wasn’t the only movie that earned Oklahoma taxpayer-funded giveaways, but it was one of the few that actually made it to many movie screens. Most qualifying film projects barely made it to video release.

Take Pax Masculina, described as a “steampunk” film depicting the “seduction and murder of policemen and government officials.” It earned a $73,003 taxpayer subsidy before it vanished into obscurity.

“Steampunk” not your style? You should check out Blueberry Hall. According to the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, it’s “a cautionary, Southern Gothic tale” about a college student who enters the world of prescription drugs to get a free ride to Harvard Law School. The film received a $70,560 taxpayer subsidy, but at least it had “an all-Oklahoma crew.”

Since 2010, a period spanning two recessions in Oklahoma, taxpayers have handed over some $20.3 million to film producers and Hollywood folks who graced us with their presence. We also grant them sales tax exemptions for anything their production companies buy in Oklahoma.

Set aside for a moment the wisdom (or lack thereof) of essentially bribing some people to come make movies in Oklahoma and then sail right back to Hollywood. Maybe the incentive has enhanced the film industry in Oklahoma?

Nope. Oklahoma’s own Incentive Evaluation Commission found “no evidence that the Oklahoma film industry has strengthened during the time period when the rebate has been available.” With annual budget holes in the hundreds of millions of dollars, is this really a high priority for state government?

The current rebate allowed each year by state law is $4 million. That might not sound like a lot, but the state could pay for nursing home care for 213 elderly Oklahomans or for mental health services for 1,402 Oklahomans.

While we aren’t talking about a one-stop solution to the state’s budget woes, it’s still real money and another example of why it’s foolish to give more tax dollars to those who can’t seem to refrain from giving away our money to shady Hollywood characters.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org)

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