HOLLYWOOD — Oklahoma film commission officials are hoping that their state’s passage of “right to work” legislation — coupled with a new 15% tax rebate plan — will make it more attractive to filmmakers and TV.
“This sends a message to Hollywood that we’re ready to do business and compete with Canada,” Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin said. Right-to-work laws mean that union membership cannot be a requisite for a job. Employers generally favor them because non-union salaries are lower.
The law won’t necessarily rock the production world — Oklahoma joins a list of 26 right-to-work states — but, according to Fallin, it could help remove a legal speed bump in doing business, making the state more accommodating for non-union productions.
For a while, anyway.
Tom Copeland, film commissioner of Texas, also a right-to-work state, said indie productions are more likely to use a non-union crew, whereas big-budget studio pics operate within the contractual limits set in Los Angeles.
But according to Copeland, once Texas developed a substantial, experienced crew base, the unions arrived and successfully organized below-the-line workers. It is still a right-to-work environment, but the unions have established their rights, as well.
“People forget that the 40-hour work week, benefits and decent rates of pay came as a result of organizing,” said Steve Dayan, business agent, Teamsters Local 399. “It’s what the unions are about.”
Arizona film commish Linda Petersen Warren said that, while a right-to-work statute “increases the number of projects in the mix of those considering the Grand Canyon state as a location destination,” it doesn’t necessarily make it less attractive to union productions.
In August, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating unveiled an incentive package offering filmmakers, TV and commercial productions a 15% rebate of costs incurred while on location in the state. The program has a yearly cap of $2 million and applies to everything from local hires to props and wardrobe.
“It’s good to see other states around the United States address issues surrounding runaway production. Keeping production in California and the U.S. is priority,” said California film commissioner Karen Constine, whose Film California First program offers rebates on the cost of public labor, excluding local police, and reduces location site, film permit and public equipment fees for filming on public land.
Most states have opted to take a wait-and-see approach to Oklahoma’s game plan.
“Film commissioners don’t operate in a vacuum,” said Mississippi’s Ward Emling, prexy of the Assn. of Film Commissioners Intl. “The great thing about AFCI is that I can call the folks in Oklahoma and ask how they went about putting their program into place, which can create another avenue for getting something done in my state. Each state’s success is built on the success of others.”
The sentiment is echoed by New Mexico film commish Nancy Everist, whose June 2000-July 2001 film revenues registered an economic impact of $48.4 million. “Canada has been a frustrating experience, and it behooves all states to take a more aggressive approach, but we can’t measure Oklahoma’s progress in a year or two. It takes a while to build a sound infrastructure.”
Producer and Oklahoma native Gray Frederickson (“The Godfather” trilogy, “The Outsiders” and “Apocalypse Now”) has been instrumental in the state’s development of an experienced crew base. A consortium consisting of the U. of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Community College and Oklahoma City University has programs in place to train students in the new digital technology, as well as camera lighting, editing, costume, and set and prop design — a program that has produced 200 interns.