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‘Rapids’ jumped states for tax break

Helms starrer opted for Michigan over Iowa

For those needing an example of how critical tax incentives have become in the decision to greenlight a film, look no further than Fox Searchlight’s “Cedar Rapids.”

The laffer starring Ed Helms, which has cumed about $2.3 million in limited release, was scheduled to shoot in Iowa — home to the city of the pic’s title — in late 2009.

But when the Hawkeye State suddenly rescinded its aggressive 50% tax incentive in the midst of a scandal, the production hightailed it to Michigan, taking advantage of a slightly less generous 40% break.

“It was quite a to-do but we pulled it off,” says location manager Robert Foulkes. “We had scouted about 20 different locations and were ready to go when Searchlight said we had to move.”

Foulkes said even though the studio had already spent significant coin in Iowa, it was still cheaper to uproot the production. “When a studio has a certain budget in mind, and then something gets derailed, they need to regroup,” he said.

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“At first we thought we had a lucky strike,” said helmer Miguel Arteta of the original decision to use Iowa’s incentive. “We were all set up in Des Moines.”

Iowa hosted several productions over the years, including 1989’s “Dances With Wolves” and 1995’s “The Bridges of Madison County.” In 2007 the state jumped aboard the incentives bandwagon and passed legislation billed as “half-price filmmaking,” offering producers a 50% transferrable tax credit on spending in the state.

By the time “Cedar Rapids” ankled the state two years later, 22 films had applied for tax credits totaling more than $30 million.

But in fall 2009 the program imploded as accounts of poor oversight, falsified documents and possible criminal abuse surfaced in the local press. In one example cited at the time, two filmmakers were alleged to have received breaks on the purchase of luxury cars for their personal use.

Gov. Chet Culver stopped the program in its tracks.

Some feared that “Cedar Rapids” might be shut down entirely, but Searchlight managed a relatively smooth transition to the Wolverine State.

“Even though the Iowa incentives went belly-up, the show had to go on,” said Arteta.

Unfunny as it sounds, most of the film takes place in a Cedar Rapids hotel hosting an insurance convention. The filmmakers had found the ideal location in Des Moines — a hotel with rooms surrounding an interior courtyard with a pool — but Foulkes quickly found a similar structure in Ann Arbor.

“We lucked out with that property,” he said. “It was then a scramble to find the other locations. In all, we pushed the production schedule maybe by a week or two.”

The loss of crew jobs in Iowa was to Michigan’s advantage.

But if the Wolverine State has been on a roll for the past few years in attracting film and TV projects, that era, too, may be coming to an end. On Feb. 17 Michigan’s newly elected Republican governor, Rick Snyder, proposed massive cuts to the state’s program, which offered $163 million in film incentives last year. He would cap the annual credits at $25 million.

Bookings & Signings

WME signed line producers Amy Kaufman (“Gossip Girl”), Dan Kaplow (“United States of Tara”), Ben Ormand (“Butter”) and (“Hellboy 2: The Golden Army”); production designer Rusty Smith (“Beastly”); and editors Ryan Case (“Modern Family”), Louis Cioffi (“Dexter”) and Chris Willingham (“24”). Agency booked d.p.’s Michael Bonvillain on Tommy Wirkola’s “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” Brendan Galvin on Tarsem’s “The Brothers Grimm: Snow White,” Peter Menzies Jr. on Gabriele Muccino’s “Playing the Field,” Colin Watkinson on NBC’s “Wonder Woman,” Uta Briesewitz on HBO’s “Hung,” Jonathan Brown on Fox pilot “Family Album,” Tim Ives on HBO’s “How to Make It in America,” Ramsey Nickell on CW’s “Secret Circle” and Roberto Schaefer on ABC pilot “Hallelujah.”

WME also booked production designers Jaymes Hinkle on Simon West’s “The Medallion,” Elizabeth Mickle on Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” Derek Hill on Fox pilot “Council Of Dads” and Maria Caso on “Hallelujah”; editors Jim Page on “Hansel and Gretel,” Jonathan Corn on Fox’s “Breaking In,” Victor Dubois on CBS pilot “The Rememberer,” Lisa Lassek on Fox pilot “Weekends At Bellevue” and Chris Willingham on NBC pilot “Grimm”; costume designers Catherine George on CBS pilot “Rookies” and Gersha Phillips (co-repped with Vanguarde Artists) on ABC pilot “Poe”; and line producers Dan Kaplow on Kaplow on “Dads,”Amy Kaufman on ABC pilot “Georgetown,”Erin O’Malley on NBC pilot “I Hate that I Love You” and Steve Saeta on NBC pilot “The Crossing.”

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Email peter.caranicas@variety.com

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