Washington Film Has One Last Chance to Save Itself

With a major tax credit about to expire, the industry has its back against the wall.

By Matthew Halverson January 23, 2017 Published in the February 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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When Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater steps behind the camera to finally make the big-screen adaptation of Maria Semple’s 2012 novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette?—most likely in 2017—it only makes sense that he roll film here. Because come on, Seattle is practically the main character: The passive aggression, the provinciality, the blackberry brambles—they drive the narrative as much as any off-the-wall decision made by the titular enigmatic architect. Problem is, without a Hail Mary from the Washington state legislature this session, there’s a good chance Linklater will go elsewhere. 

“How do you not make Bernadette here?” grumbles Amy Lillard. You’ll have to forgive her for her frustration. As the executive director of the nonprofit Washington Filmworks, Lillard spends a lot of her time selling the state as a prime filming backdrop. But while other locales—Vancouver, BC, and Oregon among them—can lure productions to their backyards with sizable financial incentives, she has just $3.5 million in tax credits to offer per year. Which has been enough to keep SyFy’s zombie series Z Nation filming in Spokane since 2014, but Lillard has also had to endure the “heartbreak” of losing the Academy Award–nominated Wild and Amazon’s high-concept series The Man in the High Castle to more financially welcoming sites. “Unfortunately this is just how the industry works now,” says Kate Becker, director of the Seattle Office of Film and Music.

For two years the local film community has lobbied the legislature to fatten the tax credit without success. Last year’s attempt, a bill that would have initially doubled the annual dollar amount before incrementally increasing it to $10 million, didn’t even get a vote on the house floor. And with the credit set to expire in June, Lillard and her colleagues are down to their final reel. But this year’s bill has a twist: While they’re only asking for a renewal of the annual $3.5 million, a clause would set aside extra cash for a movie of local historical significance—like, say an adaptation of The Boys in the Boat, the thematically appropriate story of the underdog UW crew’s triumph at the 1936 Olympics. “We’re full-speed ahead toward Olympia,” Lillard says.

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