Friday, July 19, 2024

Film and TV crews spent $334 million in Montana during last two years, legislators told

by TOM LUTEY Montana Free Press
| July 1, 2024 12:00 AM

Film and TV companies spent $334 million in Montana over the past two years, according to numbers released to state legislators on Monday. 

Television, including the filming of the “Yellowstone” franchise, was the big contributor with $275.7 million spent between July 2022 and May 2024. 

“Obviously very big numbers,” said Gina Lavery, of Econsult Solutions, Inc., an analyst hired by the state. “These are honestly double what we saw the previous cycle, which makes sense because of the number of large television series that had taken place here.” 

Roughly $60 million went to payroll for Montana employees. Over two years 510 full-time Montana jobs were created directly by film and TV work, with another 810 jobs indirectly created.

Another $90.4 million was spent locally on production; the biggest chunk, $184 million, went to Hollywood talent.

Over two years ending in May, 37 Montana counties had some interaction with the 167 productions in the state. Independent features were a distant second to television programming, with $35.3 million in activity.

Lavery gave her report to the Legislative Interim Revenue Committee, which was mostly interested in whether Montana’s $24 million film tax credit program was attracting business.

“If there was no tax credit, you know, there’s still film production here. So it’s not a matter of $24 million worth of credits, compared to the 22-point something of benefits,” said Sen. Paul Fielder, a Republican from Thompson Falls. “I just wonder, without a tax credit, would we still be receiving economic benefits? I think we would just be some reduced amount.”

Tax credits have been in play since the 2019 Legislature and are available for productions through 2029. The incentives are a grab bag of perks: a 25% tax credit for hiring Montana crew members, 15% for non-resident crew and 30% for Montana university students working for the college credit. Actors, directors and writers are worth a tax benefit of 20%. 

There have been rumors about filmmakers pulling out of Montana once the state’s film credits were exhausted. Lynn-Woods said the production of “1923,” the “Yellowstone” prequel featuring Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford, likely relocated from Butte to Texas as Montana tax incentives maxed out and Texas offered a better deal.

“Well, I can’t speak directly for them because I’m not part of the production, but I know that it would have been much easier for them to stay in Butte to finish that part,” Wood-Fields said. “And it very much is a result of our tax incentives, because we are completely out so there’s no guarantee for them. 

In Montana, the tax credits aren’t paid out until the producers offer receipts for their expenditures, but what’s available for new projects is based on projections. The total net loss to state revenue to tax credits is estimated to be $6.2 million.