Feb 2, 2023 - Politics

Virginia lawmakers mull increasing film and TV incentives

Illustration of a film strip with one hundred dollar bills in each frame

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Virginia’s film industry is hoping to transform itself into a year-round operation.

Yes, but: First it has to convince the General Assembly to write a few checks.

What’s happening: Lawmakers are fielding an array of proposals to boost the state’s existing film incentives, which in recent years brought productions like "The Good Lord Bird," two seasons of "Swagger," "Dope Sick" and a "The Walking Dead" spinoff.

Why it matters: Lawmakers backing the change argue that the current cap of $10.5 million a year isn’t enough to sustain jobs locally for the mostly Richmond-based crew and production companies that work on set.

  • And because productions basically only go to locations with incentives, they say the only way to land more jobs is to dole out more cash.

What they’re saying: People who work in film in Virginia say they spend much of the year traveling to staff productions in other states because work in Virginia dries up as soon as the year’s incentives run out.

  • "I'm literally on a job in New York City right now as we speak," Jarrod Russell, a camera operator and gaffer from Richmond, told Axios this week. "It's either go out of state or try to have another line of work."

By the numbers: The state's incentive program, created in its current form by former Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2013, lags behind neighbors, according to the Virginia Film Office.

  • North Carolina offers $31 million a year. Kentucky offers $75 million, and West Virginia has no limit.

Worth noting: A 2019 review of the state’s incentive program by legislative auditors took a dim view of the incentives, finding that while they supported 580 jobs and $51 million in spending, the return in revenue to the state was just about 25 cents per dollar spent.

  • Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, says her proposal addresses some of those concerns by targeting television series.
  • She says TV has a greater local economic impact because production companies build infrastructure like soundstages, hire local employees for longer periods and return every year.

What to watch: Lawmakers will decide whether any of the new programs get funded during budget negotiations later this month.

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