Subsidies boost movie industry in South; some question benefits of tactic

August 6, 2014 4:44PM

Justin Owen was cited in an article about film subsidies in the Chattanooga Times Free Press today. You can read the whole article here.

Tennessee, which doesn’t track economic impact for its movie investments, offers up to 25 percent in cash rebates for labor and vendor expenditures, a production subsidy that has come under fire by watchdogs who claim the investment simply isn’t worth it.

“At best, these incentives (in Tennessee) have a 30 cent return on the dollar,” said Justin Owen, president of the Nashville-based Beacon Center, a taxpayer watchdog group.

The reason for the disconnect is that film shoots are very brief, and often much of the money is paid to actors, producers and staff who may hail from another state, taking their money back with them, he said. Unlike Georgia, which boasts existing studios and some that are under construction by locals like Ted Turner and Tyler Perry, Tennessee has fewer permanent jobs and facilities to carry the state through the lulls between shoots, Owen said.

So why try to close the gap with Georgia, which has attracted a joint venture between Pinewood Studios and Chick-fil-A’s Cathy family that, according to some estimates, could employ thousands?

“It’s press release economics,” Owen said. “It’s so popular and exciting when you say such and such film was shot in Tennessee or Georgia, or this show is located here, they kind of get starry-eyed by the production of that here, and they overstate the value because it makes them look good.”