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PIA Panel Report

Updated: Feb 5, 2021


Takeaways // Panel Questions // Live Q+A // Bios + Contact // Glossary


 


 

On January 21st, 2021 the Production Initiatives Association hosted a panel discussion regarding the film industry, politics, and economic recovery.


The Production Initiatives Association (PIA), an entertainment industry business association, was founded to represent small businesses via government relations, but also to recognize our ability and the necessity of investing our energies and competencies to boost our communities for all of New York, up and downstate. Seeking success for all of New York is a short and long-term strategy to rebuild economic stability and seek collaborative solutions with elected leaders for the benefit of all.


Notably, the attendees for the panel terrifically illustrated the array of small businesses and independent professionals who we know are vital to the economy. We saw payroll companies, production companies, entertainment lawyers, producers union crew, talent agents, film commissioners, prop houses, equipment rentals, location owners, and sound stages attended. It’s inspiring to imagine the possibilities of the multitude of different businesses with varying superpowers coming together to advocate for small businesses in entertainment, but also be active participants in the betterment of our communities and stewards of the future.


Please join us to leverage your business's superpower to secure a stable film industry and vital community.

 

Takeaways


We spoke with three panelists with different professional backgrounds, but overlapping expertise and perspectives. Here are the main takeaways from each.


Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell



  • In the State of the State Address, Governor Cuomo presented two budgets and is waiting on a federal aid package as a determinant for the final budget. Budget negotiations started this week and will continue until April 1st.


  • There is a common misconception that film incentives benefit the already wealthy upper tier of "Hollywood". The industry should be aware that local leadership has no counter-argument to this distortion if we do not bring it to their attention.


  • Legislators, outside the five boroughs especially, need to feel engaged and made to care that their constituents support incentivizing filmmaking legislation.


  • Letters or invitations to visit set to County Executives, City Council Members, State Senators, and Assembly Members could serve us well so they may witness the economic multipliers and employment opportunities media production generates.



Ryan Broussard


  • Many states have incentives for filmmaking, but regarding the terms of the incentive, governments want to strike a balance to benefit the entire state versus the already established film centers.


  • The economic benefit of filmmaking is often underscored when the incentives expire or are cut. Local business associations, such as hotels, feel the effects of reduced productions and often emerge to support film incentives post facto when it could take years to reinstate.


William Lindsay III


  • Elected leaders understand how essential small businesses are to a viable economy particularly creating and retaining jobs in New York state. Sometimes that means incentivizing certain industries due to other states' business recruitment strategies.

  • Small businesses and local government must work together, but legislators need to hear from industry stakeholders to better understand and serve the sector of the economy.

 

Panel Questions


This panel was produced and moderated by Executive Director, Eva Radke and Chair of PIA's Initiatives Committee, Emellie O'Brien.


William Lindsay III


What is the potential relationship between elected leaders and small businesses and is participation in collective advocacy and lobbying a form of risk management?


William Lindsay III: When you’re a legislator you are supposed to be accountable to your constituents, and with your constituents, there are many different issues that you face. But first and foremost, it goes just to our most basic needs. It has a viable economy where people are able to work and people are able to support themselves, provide for housing and food, and all the things necessary for life. And in order to do that, you have to build this viable economy. And most people know our economy is built on small businesses in order to create an environment where those small businesses can thrive and can succeed. In some cases, the government has to get involved to help and make that possible. In some instances, they have to just stay out of the way and allow the free market to do what it does for these businesses to thrive and to do well. But in this particular situation, we're talking about, it really needs government interaction.


The government needs to help support certain industries in order to keep them here. As a legislator for six years, we would see actively see other states with the presence in New York literally knocking on doors, going to business owners, saying, “Why don't you come to our state will roll out the red carpet for you will provide you with all types of tax incentives and all types of benefits”. In some cases, we'll even build you a new building. And it doesn't matter if you have 300 employees or if you have 30 employees. In some instances, I would talk to CEOs and even just owners of small businesses where the governor of a particular state would actually call them and say, “What do I need to do to get to come to Texas, to North Carolina, to Florida, New Jersey?” So you have this incredibly competitive environment that local government and the state government has to be attuned to.


“There is huge power in numbers. It creates the overwhelming sense that this is an important issue, it makes it real.”

Otherwise, if they close their eyes to it, they're gonna wake up and all the businesses, they're gonna be gone and all the jobs will be gone with it. So it's extremely important for the government and business owners to partner together to try to keep all those jobs here, because without that, without that one industry, there are so many other supporting businesses followed out the door. It's critical to create that viable local economy today for the government to do everything we can to support those business owners and ultimately the jobs that they create.


Lobbying is something PIA is focusing on. Is what we're doing really going to make a difference?


William Lindsay III: I'm sure Assembly Member O'Donnell will talk about this as well, when your constituents come to you, either through emails or face-to-face or testimony in a public hearing, you listen to that testimony and it really molds your train of thought and how you understand the one position or another.


The other side of an argument might have more people or more of a response, and that's where the attention is gonna get directed by the elected officials. So there's such a huge power in numbers, and not only does it create that overwhelming sense that this is an important issue, but it also makes it real and true-to-life. When you have people that you represent, coming to you and telling you, they're really story of how many people they employ or average salary that they pay their employees and how they're dependent upon these tax incentives in order to continue their business and to continue to thrive, that has a tremendous impact on the thought process of that elected official and how they approach a particular issue. Specifically, I think it has a tremendous impact. Without that voice, if you expect the elected officials are going to recognize the importance of this sector of our economy, you're doing a disservice not only to yourself but the entire industry, because absent our voices, they're gonna listen to somebody else and some of their opinion or just draw their own conclusion which might be contrary to our ultimate goal.



So I think it's it's critical, and it's vital that we continue to have a voice, even when successful, even to continue that open dialogue to establish that relationship. You don't want to come in in the 11th hour when they're talking about taking away that benefit, because, at that point, it might be too late. It's a risk that's far too great to allow that to happen. So it's critical that we continue to have that open dialogue, I think it's critical that we continued to develop those relationships with elected officials who ultimately have the last say and what happens here. So I think it's something that we need to continue to do. And I think it's vital not only for our businesses but for our industry as a whole.



Ryan Broussard

You’re the VP of Sales and Production Incentives at Media Services that covers a multitude of states. You’ve witnessed the positive economic effects of the tax incentives and multiplier effects in the local economy. Can you give us an account of that experience?


Ryan Broussard: That it really is hard to vocalize that with people that don't know our industry or the film industry as a whole. You know, a lot of people have this obtuse, you know, perspective that, "Oh, you know, taxes in this film incentive is just giving money to a producer or Brad Pitt" or something to that nature. They don't realize that the people that are being employed on these sets or the people like in media services that we're paying daily. These were people that work in the art department, set construction, grip, electric, these are salt-of-the-earth type jobs. Not everybody is walking out of a limousine. These are hardworking people that are getting paid very good salaries to William's point, making a viable economy because that money is being put back out into the economy.


I always tell people that when you see a show come into the area, it's like dropping an economic bomb...

...because these people are getting per diems, these people are getting paid well, then they're going out and spending it at restaurants wherever they're living, the hotels or Airbnbs or whatever. It might be just using all the local vendors there. And obviously, when there is a film incentive, like in New York or those other states you mentioned, they want you to spend locally. It just works in their favor. And then they get that rebate back in New York 25%. So you know they want you to spend locally. They're pushing for that, all these states, and to your point, I see that the trend.


There's a reason that most of the states when you look at the map, have a production incentive, even California that you wouldn't think would need one, right? They have one now because they know the importance of trying to keep that industry there. Every state has particular industries they're good at, right? Why not bring another one there? Why are you relying on one industry? So it's really great to see states do that and embrace [film tax incentives].


And to be completely honest, when the state gets rid of an incentive or its sunsets or expires, I can't tell you how many of them spend the rest of the next couple of years trying to get it back, and I'm dealing with that now, with a few states trying to get it back. as we speak, just trying to get back into it. So, it's extremely important to the economy. It's extremely important to the industry and to local vendors and small businesses like those with us today because [local production spending] is not just going to what you would think, it's not just going to a prop house or something like that. These people are going to thrift stores, they're going to restaurants. Hotel associations come out the woodwork when an incentive leaves because they're like, "Oh, our hotel numbers are down". It's very interesting to see those trends of coming in and out of an incentive. But it's definitely something that when it's gone, they realize they miss it.

In March of 2020, the New York film tax incentive in percentage was reduced from 30% to 25%. Does the incentive rate truly affect the decision-making behind selecting a state to shoot their projects?


Ryan Broussard: When people have these incentives, they are trying to find a balance, right? So we've seen when states have gone too far and they've offered too much, and then we've seen when states offered too little. So there seems to be this constant balance to try to figure out the right place and where to be.


We've seen that happen with Louisiana. They were at the top of the mountain in the south. And then they changed the Louisiana film tax incentive] in 2015, and then it went to the bottom, and now they've kind of balanced it out now, with some changes they did in 2017. I think George is gonna have a balance eventually.


With New York, they added a minimum spend for independent [productions], which is a lot of our clients that we do payroll for. They added a minimum spend for that which is different; they never had that before. And then they also lowered the base credit. Now they did keep the credit if you're filming upstate, and they're really trying to incentivize, people filming outside the popular New York, the five boroughs, right? Like they want. When legislators are fighting for an incentive, like a film incentive in any state, they want to make sure they're not just fighting for New York City or for New Orleans or for Atlanta, right? They want to make sure the whole state gets represented because there's a whole board of people voting on these things.


And so when you see a tax base go down, it's not because they're saying, "Oh, we're trying to hurt the incentive or change it", they're trying to find a balance for everybody in the state.

With regards to independents, the minimum spend is a million dollars now, if you're within those five boroughs, the popular areas in New York. If you're upstate and in those other areas, the minimum spend is only 250K. So they didn't make the minimum spend astronomical. Once again, they're trying to find balance, and they're trying to find what works for everybody. If they reduced it further, I mean, it's hard to predict what would happen. I would hope that if they did reduce it further, they would balance it out with maybe some type of bonus. You know, I mentioned, you get an extra 10% if you film upstate, and that was always there, so that hasn't changed.


New Jersey, for example, they are doing some interesting stuff. There they have an extra incentive if you're utilizing diversity. So if you're meeting diversity requirements, you get an extra 2%. So, my suggestion and my hope would be that if New York, or whoever, would lower a base credit even more than it is, that there's a way to still hit that number.


If you capitalize on these bonuses that are kind of outside-the-box, whether it be diversity or shooting and economically diverse or underpaid areas, so that would be a way to balance.

Louisiana lowered their base as well, but they added [bonuses] to film outside of New Orleans, and if you use a New Orleans screenwriter, you get these extra bonuses to bring it up to where it was. So as long as there's a balance, I don't think there's a problem with lowering the base credit as long as there are ways to bring it back. That helps the economy, that helps the industry, and helps people of all backgrounds and everything to help bring this industry together.



Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell


Kindly provide some insight regarding Governor Cuomo’s State of the State and how it relates to small business owners in the film industry?


Assembly Member O'Donnell: Like everything with the governor, there is good news and bad news. The good news is he presented two versions of what the budget might be based on what might come out of Washington. He has been waiting since last March for something to come out of Washington, so he's now using what comes out of Washington as the determinant for what the budget would look like.


As chair of the Arts Committee, I have been fighting for arts funding for the last four years. Last year we were gonna have a bumper year in helping promote and encourage art in New York, and, of course, COVID took the floor out from underneath us, and so that didn't turn out to be quite the way we wanted it. He has increased the numbers, which is good, and mostly at this stage of negotiations, which starts next week, you need to have the money on the table.


So what this role is, that you have proposals to spend the money and then you have to see how much money you are proposing to bring in. And then, as from now until April first, it gets whittled down. My job is to keep it on the table.

You have personal and professional ties to the entertainment industry. Have you encountered misconceptions about the film industry that you think we need to address?


Assembly Member O'Donnell: Yes, Ryan mentioned it and I will repeat it. Yes. My sister is Rosie O Donnell. She used to have a little TV show, and, she has done a lot of movies. My husband works in arts development; he's a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Opera, his sister is a theater director and her husband is a theater producer. There's a lot going on. I thankfully never had those desires, I went into politics instead, which creates his own set of problems. The biggest problem, I would say, within my job, is the perception that Ryan brought up, that "does Robert DeNiro really need more money?".


If you live in New York City, well, first of all, you have to deal with the inconvenience of taking all the parking spaces and the constituents calling my office and screaming. Having said all that, if you are there and you witness what that is, you understand a little better [film production] is not about importing people from "Hollywood", right? And so, it would help if all the people who came to work didn't have Jersey plates, may I say, but having said that, generally, if you see it, you might be able to understand it. So when you leave the five boroughs, people don't often see what that means. And even my closest friends in the assembly who do not have an anti-New York City bias and do not have an anti-art bias, you know, wonder, "do those rich people really need to make more money"?


And so, it's not an understanding of getting the people who are going to provide the food and all that being here... I do want to say that in COVID times, the film industry, the TV industry has provided a place for stage actors to go.


We want these things to be here, but until the end of March, everything is competing with each other. [Arts funding] is competing with education funding and keeping the hospitals open and rebuilding the roads and the infrastructure. And, you know, then there's always the pettiness that gets involved. I'm sure that William will agree with me, petty disputes get raised in politics. Somebody doesn't like somebody else, somebody you know who represents where a film studio is and they're in some sort of pissing match, about something that has nothing to do with the ultimate subject matter. They try to block it just for payback. Which I really try very hard to avoid. That's the harder part.


People come to my office certain that what they are asking for right and fair. I have to explain to them, that if you want right or fair, don't come to Albany. Because nothing about right and fair is how things get done, you need advocates who can be fierce to fight for what is important to you, and, now, as the chair of this committee, that's part of what I do.


We all know that the pandemic has put tremendous pressure on the citizens, legislators, and social service providers of New York state. How can local leaders and the entertainment industry collaborate to help our communities?


Assembly Member O'Donnell: I was reading some of what was in the governor's budget proposal in the expansion of the film credit to other counties like Saratoga and Warren, is a very good thing because A, they are beautiful places, and B, in contrast to maybe New York City, they have affordable places to stay. But it also gets the local electeds, feeling engaged in what that is. And what I would say to you is, to the extent that you have members/supporters outside the five boroughs to communicate with their state elected about how important these issues are. Because to the extent that people perceive that this is only benefiting New York City or New York City voters, people lose interest. And, you know, I led the fight for five years to pass marriage equality. I led the fight for five years to repeal 58 of the Civil Rights Law, which protected police officers. There's got to be a strategy and the strategy has to include contacting people who you might not usually think will know or care. You've got to make them know and care. That's very, very important.


How do we make elected leaders know and care?


If you are doing a production in Saratoga, send a letter to the legislators, council members, the state senator, and the state Assembly members saying, "Hey, we're coming to Saratoga for this period of time. We'd love you to stop by and see what we do and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" Now they probably won't come because they're too busy or they think they're too important. But the point is, you're making that contact, and the contact is between you, the make filmmaker, and the elected.


Now the in-between people are the people who are there providing the food and other services that are in the tax base. Right? That's the whole thing. It's about tax dollars. I understand that tourism and art is a tax multiplier, and I never stopped screaming about it, but it's a whole lot different, knowing it's a multiplier than seeing it with your own two eyes. Let's move back to Saratoga. If in fact, in the course of six months that happened four times, there were four different productions, they read four different letters and go "Oh!" It takes a tiny bit of work but at least puts them on notice that the production is going on within their own community.


Eva Radke: That's a fantastic idea There may be something that PIA could do as well and put that together. We can put those together and inform our members and peers how they can contact them and say, "Hey, we're here. Please come for lunch." or whatever to come to see what we do and talk to the crew who are all mostly middle class, getting great jobs, I think that's terrific and really, really good advice and thank you.


Daniel O'Donnell: It would diffuse some the perception that all that money is going to New York City, it's a local person, chances are, who's doing a lot of those work. And if you're an elected and you go up to a job site, and the job site, in fact, includes people you know, then you know it's not from far away.



 

Live Q+A


The film incentive does incentivize work coming to the rest of the state but in reality, it still only benefits crew based in NYC. People are not hiring local crew in these areas and there is are plenty of crew in places like Syracuse, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Albany. What can the state do to make sure a certain percentage of their crew lives locally to where they are shooting?



Ryan Broussard: That is true just because of the crew base, and that is gonna be normal in most of these states, as I mentioned, New Orleans, Atlanta, New York City, you're gonna have your crew base focused in a certain area. And it does take time to grow outside the crew base outside of those central hubs. What I've seen work and is actually a really cool thing to do in places like Saratoga to Daniel's point, in other places would be, is to have some sort of education program, where they're doing interns, where they're doing training programs and you get an extra incentive if somebody more experienced is training somebody in that local area that is new to the business, is green to it. But they're getting the experience from somebody that has the experience that may be from New York City or one of those hubs, but their training and they're showing them the ins-and-outs of it, or get maybe a little incentive, or they just get just a percentage of their wages reduced or something, where they get that on the back end. Those educational incentives are really big, and I'm starting to see them in almost every state.

Stockade Works Crew Boot Camps Saugerties, NY

Actually, New York has, when they passed their new [film tax incentive legislation], they actually did some educating stuff. And they actually did do some diversity stuff as well with the new stuff, but it was It's like, "Oh, you just paid for it and it goes to the education of it and the training of it". But this would be more hands-on. What I would suggest and what I think could help grow, because it's all about growing, that crew base in those little pockets. And if there's no crew base there or if they don't know, you know, the question says, "Oh, there is crew base there?", and there probably is. But it might only be one deep, which means there's only they can only handle one production at a time. So if one production there, then there's another production there, or in a County next to it. They got to go to New York City to crew up. So it's really just about developing those local crew bases in those pockets.



Q: How can the industry support educating communities on the benefits of working with productions to attract them locally?


William Lindsay: I think what the Assemblyman suggested, in terms of trying to engage with local elected officials, my advice would just be to go one step further and inform them of how many jobs you're bringing to their area on how much economic activity you might be creating just from that one particular production and even break it down to how many hotel rooms rented and how much food you purchased those dollars, especially in small areas like Saratoga, they multiply, and they have a tremendous effect you would see, and that particular city or county or town might actually see a blip and increase in their sales tax revenue during that time period or increase in just the economic activity. And that has a tremendous effect. So I was always very data-driven, and to make it less emotional and more about the data and the facts. And I think that removes some of the misperceptions that might be out there in regards to the industry.


Eva Radke: We have started collecting multiplier data from our members. When we had a meeting with Empire State Development, they were pleased as punch that one of our members spent $142 thousand just in tolls in normal operating business. Being able to provide this new sort of information is something that PIA is actively doing right now through our membership and providing it to our lobbyists. So I think that we're on the right track, at least in that regard, It's great that we're doing that and that we can demonstrate, the not just the production, but the [film industry] vendors have a multiplier effect.


Ryan Broussard: It's something that every state, you know, some people call it the trickle-down effect, the multiplier effect, whatever you wanna call it. It's so real and it is so hard to account for because it seems like when I see states bring it to legislators or whomever. It's either comes up too small, and it's not multiplying enough or it's actually too big and everybody laughs and says, "That can't be possible. It can't be that big."


I was talking to you about this in Senoia, Georgia. I mean, this is a place, a little small town, that I think had three or four shops, and now when you go there, I think they have thirty. It's a small town, but it's all because of the Walking Dead. Not every show is going to be the Walking Dead, and we're aware of that, right? But you don't know which show or which project will be the next big thing, and now they've got a coffee shop there called the Waking Dead, somebody's working there; there are employees there. They're hiring teenagers out of high school. People don't account for that stuff.


It's hard to show the in-between because when something is very small, it's hard to show that impact. And then when something so large it's like, "Oh, they're not all going to be Walking Dead right?" So to show the in-between is really difficult. And to William and Daniel's point writing legislators, using your eyes like Daniel, said, I've had many people in my experience where you bring them to set, as I just said, "Just look. Look at these people working, just look at this. That person serving food, there's a teacher in the corner, that's a nurse that we have there", especially with COVID. I look at budgets all day helping people decide where to shoot, and the amount of money they have to put towards COVID, to make sure it's done safely, is, what I was gonna say crazy, but it actually is the right thing to do, right, because we want everybody to be safe and actually the film industry is doing it very, very well. A set will probably be one of the cleanest places you can go right now because of the amount of money that they're putting there towards cleaning crews and the PPE and everything. So that money is the trickle-down effect is real. It's just It's so hard. To account for that between the very small and the very, very large. It's very hard to do that.


Eva Radke: Thank you for underlining that it's amazing that a little town became a little bigger.


Ryan Broussard: If you on their Facebook, if you go on their official website of Senoia, Georgia They're called the Home of Walking Dead. They completely champion it because they realized what it did for their economy, what it did for tourism, everything. So, that obviously is an example, but an extreme example, but amazing to see.


Q: Parker Shippey: I'm Parker Shippey, I'm the CEO of Shattered Prism. Thank you guys so much for joining us. We distribute e-generators, they're silent, portable power stations. I was curious, you mentioned a lot about the balance between covering incentives that are for us that doesn't extend too far, right? And then you also have people that are at the table that obviously have different interests for this state.


So, I was wondering what overlaps there might be with other industries where you know, suppliers like us or there are other suppliers in this group that manufacture equipment or distribute equipment have overlap, maybe with some of these other industries,


So, when we're talking about the extra, the extra incentives that could be added on top of things, what those might be in order to bring people that might be initially opposed to an incentive that's directly for the film and television industry over to an incentive that's broader, but ultimately actually improves the film industry's community here, and has a greater draw or a greater uphold for the industry as a whole, but covers other industries indeed?



Ryan Broussard: Just some of the examples of what I've seen that people do, is having a requirement of certain time spent in a particular area or hiring using a certain amount of vendors or crews. New York actually does have something of this, not just with the minimum spend, but they have a 75% requirement when filming at a studio because you have to film at a studio in New York in order to qualify, for a least a day. depending on your budget. So to have some sort of something that doesn't sound so production-y. It's all about perception, right? So maybe it's just something that didn't sound so production-y, Is that a word? I don't know. If it didn't sound so production-y and it was like, "You have to, use 'X' amount of vendors or if you're going to use an out-of-state... of what I've seen in some other states... and sometimes they say, if you're using an out-of-state vendor, it's fine. But you have to show that you've done your due diligence and gone to like vendors in the area. And that's kind of interesting to see sometimes, too, because sometimes they think, "I can't get wardrobe here. I can't find any." There's not a wardrobe house, but maybe there's a costume house that doesn't typically do production wardrobe that you could find that people don't automatically think of. Same with makeup and things like that. So, it's hard to think of those crossovers incentives, they're out there, but they're few and far between right now in states where it would cover multiple industries.


Eva Radke: We've been it tossing around, you know, if [productions] use companies like Earth Angel or Shattered Prism, if they offer sustainable services and reduces our footprint, maybe that could get folded into the incentive for a bonus like we were talking about earlier.


Maybe 2.5% and 2.5% split for the environment and for inclusive, diverse productions, and we get our 5% back and we're making the world a better, more equitable place. There's an idea right there.


We know metro areas with different states could work together, like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or D.C. Virginia, Maryland. Is there a way for those states to work together to benefit each other instead of competing?


Daniel O'Donnell: That's very difficult to do because we all have different tax structures. We all have different laws regarding a variety of things. So it's difficult to do that. Obviously, in the D.C. Metro area, you would think that would be a little easier or better because they would need that. But, you know, it's hard to justify Pennsylvania inserting itself with a New York City-based production. But, I would say that there should be a way to do that and it's a very interesting idea. So I'm going to look into it.


Eva Radke: A lot of crew in New York and New Jersey are interchangeable, they work in both states. It would be really interesting. Also, a lot of vendors have moved out of Manhattan. There was a big purge, either to New Jersey or over to Long Island City or Long Island. It then split up, not only pickups but the tax base and all the benefits of that. And so, I would like to really explore some sort of synergy between New