Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


That the FX series "Fargo" saw fit to film in Alberta, Canada, and Illinois instead of in Minnesota where it belonged should wound the pride of every Minnesotan. And yes, we know that the original Coen brothers movie of the same name, filmed in Minnesota, might have been a similar affront to the people of North Dakota, where the city of Fargo is actually located. That is North Dakota's problem.

The fact is, Minnesota has plenty going for it as a film location for big-screen movies or smaller-screen series. It has urban grit and natural splendor, the sort that could inspire artists and poets as well as cinematographers. It has amber waves of grain, and what it lacks in purple mountain majesties it makes up for in snow that sweeps the world from end to end, a shining big-sea water and woods that are lovely, dark and deep. (Apologies to Pasternak, Longfellow and Frost.)

What Minnesota has lacked, until recently, were meaningful financial incentives to lure in the producers of film and TV projects. Why should those incentives be necessary, in a state teeming with so many other advantages? The answer is simple, if depressing: because everybody else is doing it. In the last few years, Minnesota has graduated from offering thousands in rebates to providing millions in tax credits. It has joined the company of states that have recognized the power of money to trump — or at least to influence — creative vision.

"The first question is always, 'What are your incentives?'" said Melodie Bahan, executive director of Minnesota Film and TV. "The studios will tell you that the creative drives the decisionmaking. Yeah … but you can tweak the creative a little bit. If you don't have a competitive incentive program, you're not even part of the conversation."

Now that the Legislature has made the more lucrative tax credits available, there is one remaining change that Bahan and others want to see: the sunsetting of her office, which is a private nonprofit, and the establishment of a state agency to do the same work, only more of it. And better. And with more accountability.

"Minnesota is the only state in the country that relies on a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to do the work of a state film office," Bahan said. "And the primary work of a state film office is marketing the state and administering the taxpayer-funded incentives." Managing those incentives, she said, cannot be the work of a nonprofit; it must be done by a state agency.

"What we have now is a system where there are two state agencies and a nonprofit all having to touch the process," Bahan said. "It's inefficient; it's unwieldy; it's confusing for applicants."

Rep. Liz Lee, DFL-St. Paul, has introduced a bill to set up a state film office under the umbrella of Explore Minnesota, the state's tourism agency. The text of Lee's bill says the new office would be named Explore Minnesota Film. Its director would be responsible for administering the tax-credit program and promoting Minnesota as a film and TV location, among other duties.

The initiative makes sense. Promoting Minnesota as a movie location may be good for our ego, but the benefits of bringing film and TV production to the state go well beyond pride. The economic advantages are enormous. Montana saw a reported $7 million to $12 million in spending per episode of Paramount's "Yellowstone" series, for example. The "Fargo" series brought an estimated $3 million to $5 million per episode to Alberta.

Studios spend money on hotels, restaurants, caterers, transportation and retailers of every kind. They employ crews and actors and help develop and support a skilled workforce and production infrastructure.

"Minnesota has — wisely, I think — seen fit to invest in this industry over the last couple of years," Bahan said. "And I think it is smart to protect your investment."

We agree. And if there's a sixth season of "Fargo" in the works, it should be filmed in Minnesota. Just saying.