Minnesota Film and TV announced changes Monday to its program trying to lure Hollywood productions to the state — known as the "snowbate" program — after drawing criticism for giving $267,000 to NBC's "The Tonight Show" when Jimmy Fallon filmed here during the 2018 Super Bowl.
Productions around special events like the Super Bowl are no longer eligible for the money. Nor are productions featuring candidates for elective office in Minnesota. The program was also criticized for handing out a grant to the producers of a documentary about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
"The new guidelines will ensure that those taxpayer dollars are being used to meet the program's goals of economic development and job creation," said Melodie Bahan, executive director of Minnesota Film and TV, which receives $500,000 per year from the state but is not a government entity.
Qualifying productions and companies doing postproduction work in Minnesota can apply to receive a rebate on some of the money they spend in Minnesota.
The aim of the program is to entice productions here, bringing with them high-paying jobs and free marketing to the state. But critics say the money is just a handout to favored industries, in this case movies and TV.
Bahan said other major changes to the program will allow Minnesota Film and TV to get the most bang for the state's buck: "We will now evaluate each project based on its ability to fulfill [economic development and job creation] goals, rather than on a first-come, first-served basis as in past years."
Minnesota Film and TV will now judge applicants based on economic impact, Minnesota hires, production days in the state and their distribution plan.
During the previous first-come, first-served system, Minnesota Film and TV was required by statute, Bahan said in July, to give the snowbate to "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," which wound up in the coffers of NBC, a subsidiary of the nearly $200 billion Comcast empire.
NBC received money to pay a portion of Fallon's salary, as well as for rental of the Orpheum Theatre, lodging, meals and some of the $320,000 it paid to local crews.
From now on, snowbate recipients will have to allow lawmakers to visit their sets, the board said.
State Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, applauded the changes: "I'm pleased with the new guidelines, as common sense would tell you not to spend taxpayer dollars on projects centered on national events taking place in Minnesota or on local political candidates."
Bahan said she wants the changes to be a launchpad for a more robust program: "Although our program is not large enough to be competitive with many other states yet, we hope to grow and strengthen it in the coming years."