Guest Column: Roll the cameras to boost state’s economic recovery
By Mattie Moore
Delaware and the world have endured economic and personal challenges not experienced since the Great Depression. As Delaware looks toward a Phase 3 opening, the State should embrace its innumerable assets and tap into the potential of the feature film, television, and new media industry. New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania have all benefited from million-dollar productions.
As a producer with roots in Delaware, I marvel at the many locations I could use to film in Delaware. My current production, a comedy called King of K Street, is set in Washington, DC. Market Street, in Wilmington, and the surrounding parks are reminiscent of areas around Capitol Hill. Delaware Avenue’s office buildings resemble many areas of K Street. However, every producer asks the same question: Where does it make the most economic and logistic sense to film, particularly with the continual confusion and shut-down in New York and California with union Covid-19 health mandates currently clashing with California and New York Covid-19 testing guidelines and major studios? Even with those conditions, economically, as it stands, it’s not Delaware. Despite its tax-free status and attractive locations, the state isn’t normally the first location in a producer’s mind.
In 2016, Governor Markell acknowledged that a burgeoning film industry should be an economic priority for Delaware when he established the Delaware Motion Picture and Television Development Commission. Unfortunately, without any production tax incentives, there is little motivation for film leaders to bring productions to Delaware. This became even more evident after I presented this idea to the Reinventing Delaware dinner. Our team, aided by the support of the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, spent more than six pouring over statistics from neighboring states’ film industry revenues and job creation.
Maryland and New Jersey have continued to offer some of the most competitive tax credits for the film and production industry (Maryland turned away 25 projects due to excess demand). In January, the State of New Jersey expanded its current film tax incentive for five more years, increasing the credits another $25 million. New Jersey argued this decision would bring “significant economic activity in the communities that host the production, particularly in industries like construction, security, and food services.” Electricians, carpenters, lighting designers, catering services, transportation companies, and the hotel industry, all experience a boom during film productions. This boom includes the opportunity for students to secure internships and technical training in lucrative new areas of employment. Director and Pennsylvania native M. Night Shyamalan recently encouraged Pennsylvania to enhance its film financial structures arguing that his own production of Servant for Apple TV, may prevent him from expanding his productions in the state unless it expands its current tax structure.
Delaware is the only state with a film commission that doesn’t have a comprehensive website listing its location assets online (a simple but important task). In an industry where time is money, previewing shoot sites online is a basic prerequisite to deciding on whether to scout a location in the first place. This is vital especially now as The Grand Opera and The Playhouse will be vacated for the next 9-10 months however, according to press reports there is a possibility that producers could “rent the theater out so long as they maintain the restrictions we have in place.” These are valuable assets which Hollywood should have the knowledge they exist and are available.
Skeptics argue Delaware doesn’t have the talent pool to support the film industry. I would vigorously argue. Not only does Delaware have the talent, but alumni from the University of Delaware and residents full and part-time in the industry rank among the most influential in Hollywood, including choreographer and director Susan Stroman; agent Jon Huddle; screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos; and up-and-coming director Spencer Trinwith, who was recently interviewed by LA Confidential about his desire to film at Funland in Rehoboth Beach, calling it the most “amazing destination for children young and old.”
Delaware should immediately fill the vacant positions on the Commission of Film and Television and include digital media and concert tours in its jurisdiction. In addition, a new Film Office of Delaware should be launched within the Department of Tourism, with a new position created to oversee filming activity. Delaware’s tourism office has an impressive track record of marketing and implementing creative campaigns in the past and are well-poised, even with the state deficit, to manage this office and bring business into the state.
Delaware corporations Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu undoubtedly also rely on our policy of no state corporate tax on licensing and merchandising of patentable and trademarked products. Add a potential tax credit incentive for production in Delaware and the possibilities could be endless. If we act smart and act now, “Filmed in the First State” could soon be the emblem of many major productions.
Mattie Moore is a producer and director who also holds a master’s degree in cybersecurity technology and policy and is a media commentator on cybersecurity issues. She is one of the drivers of Lights…Camera…Action, which aims to make Delaware a strategic hub for film productions and is one of the four finalists in this year’s Reinventing Delaware competition sponsored by the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation. She was also a finalist in the 2018 competition that came out of her production of the award-winning film, A Dream Before Dying, which was filmed in Northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region. She is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild.