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Continued: Some critics call 'cut!' for Minnesota Film Board as legislative audit looms

  • Article by: KRISTIN TILLOTSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 13, 2014 - 12:19 PM

Minnesota’s $10 million may be less than in other states, Chianese said, but it’s not chicken feed. Oklahoma, he said, allocated $5 million a year for the past few years and has managed to attract several high-profile films, including “August: Osage County.”

Winter said she is focused on courting low- and mid-budget films as well as TV series, which provide more steady work over longer periods of time. The board is being unfairly blamed for broader industry changes, she said, adding that Minnesota’s economy is healthier than those of some states with more incentives (like Rust Belt states), making it harder to get money from the Legislature.

‘Base grants on results’

“People don’t understand why we can’t get Disney back here, but the whole world now spins on these incentives,” Winter said. “We were very fortunate to get the $10 million, but we’re never going to get the super big dogs here again when other states can offer them so much more.”

The board did land a little dog the day after the $10 million became official. The low-budget indie “Dear White People” was shot in the Twin Cities last fall and was accepted into the prestigious Sundance Film Festival that opens this week.

“We couldn’t have made the movie without [the film board],” said Effie T. Brown, producer of “Dear White People.” The rebate helped seal the deal, she said.

But others say the board, which now has partly shifted its focus to administering grants to local filmmakers, has lost sight of its primary mission.

Producer Christine Walker said the board “has strayed from its purpose, which is to help out-of-town filmmakers navigate the permits and contacts here, and get tax incentives to bring them here.”

Last year, Walker applied to the film board for incentives on the $1 million indie film “Stay Then Go,” moving production from Los Angeles to Minneapolis after Winter told her that she would be eligible for substantial incentives. The $60,000 she eventually got fell far short of making that relocation worthwhile, she said.

The board’s competitive grants to Minnesota filmmakers funded with Legacy money have proved problematic. All three 2011 grantees had to return the money because the board didn’t follow state guidelines in reviewing applications. In 2012, Winter restructured $600,000 in Legacy funds into reimbursement grants that filmmakers could access only after they had finished their films. But strict guidelines unique to Legacy Funds made them unfeasible for most applicants.

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who recently began chairing the House’s Legacy Fund committee, said that since the film board got the Snowbate grant, which came from general funds, it will receive no more Legacy money. While she supports the Snowbate money, she said that “we need to base future grants very strongly on results.”

Best leadership model?

Local film and TV workers say keeping — and increasing — the Snowbate incentives is vital for the industry in Minnesota. But some think that the film office should be run by the state to save money, and led by someone with strong salesmanship.

“All you really need is a few desks and phones and a website,” said photography producer Jason Hall, who left the film board not long after Sweiven due to similar frustrations about spending. “Most producers already think it’s a state-run office anyway, and it makes no difference to them. We need someone with experience marketing the state in that job.”

Greg Winter (no relation to Lucinda Winter) has worked as a cinematographer in town for 30 years, and has been on the film board for more than 12. He said the board is “doing as good a job as it can. The game has become one of incentive, and it’s an escalating war. I sympathize with everyone who needs work, but the pie has been cut into smaller pieces.”


Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046

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