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Keep, and Expand, Connecticut's Production Tax Incentives

by Justin Matley

Our home state’s obvious allure cannot be overstated; it is a state ripe with geographic, architectural, and industrial charm. The rolling hills and quaint towns of Litchfield County, the coastal fishing villages of Middlesex and New London Counties, the farming and rural expanses of Tolland and Windham Counties, the educational and institutional landmarks of New Haven and Hartford Counties, and the technological, creative, and financial epicenter of Fairfield County (I got them all, right?): they all make up our identity whether you are a generational Nutmegger or a city transplant. It’s these dynamics that make Connecticut what it is; an ever-evolving (sometimes grudgingly) crossroads between the hustle of New York City and Boston, and the postcard images from Kensett and Durrie paintings.

Part of our identity is what we, and the world, see in our place in television and film. From iconic and beloved TV and film franchises such as I Love Lucy, Indiana Jones, Gilmore Girls, The Hunt for Red October, War of the Worlds, Amistad, Father of the Bride, Who’s the Boss, and many more - Connecticut holds a firm, institutional place in our media landscape.

The Film and TV industry in Connecticut accounts for well over $100M annually in investment. When factoring in New and Digital Media, which is more than analogous due to the nature of production and consumption these days, you are talking well over 3,200 companies, more than 21,000 jobs, and job growth of nearly 50% over the last decade. As technology evolves and the industry expands, only more companies and professionals will want to consider Connecticut. Let’s stay on the map.

What our state offers is not simply beautiful scenery for panoramic shots in our favorite streaming shows. It is talent, infrastructure, and technology. It is also tax incentive. And this is the primary reason our state has become a welcome footprint for this industry as the nature of viewership only keeps increasing. Let’s be honest, you’re watching something these days - even if it is just staring into your phone.

Currently Connecticut offers a tiered approach, offering 10 or 15% credit on production and post production expenses across the media landscape (TV, film, animation, digital media) for the majority of budgets. Once crossing $1M in expenses, this steps up to 30%. Favorable economic policy has brought companies here, including the country’s largest unscripted production company, ITV America, and kept others here, like ESPN and WWE.

These jobs are not suits in ivory towers, but real and meaningful. Moreover, they’re impactful not just to the practitioners, but to all of us. Productions integrate into our communities in truly holistic ways, from the local caterer for craft services, to the mechanic servicing the production vehicles, to the landscapers mowing the set, to the flower shop decorating a shot. In fact, creating a fictional world for screen out of a real world touches on nearly all of our surroundings,  people and places alike. That’s not to mention the production and post-production personnel themselves, many of whom live right here in the state: producers, directors, editors, grips, production assistants, runners, creatives, actors, electricians, lighting, sound designers, animators, mixers, composers, drone operators, camera operators, drivers, renters, and well beyond. 

Even the municipalities benefit directly, as locations need to be rented from the cities and towns, permits acquired, real estate leased or rented. Tourism, likewise, immediately benefits. As the settings of these productions make their way into our cultural lexicon, tourists visit to capture themselves sipping an espresso in their favorite TV coffee shop or throwing a frisbee in their beloved film park. And with more sipping lips and jogging shoes in your town comes advertisers and their wallets. The benefits are exponential. 

Connecticut currently offers their policy amongst a sea of other state policies. Many of which are far more robust and favorable than ours, with less restrictions. In fact, all of our bordering states offer more incentive for smaller and mid-level productions that, while perhaps not as glamorous as your favorite Gilmore Girls rapid banter scene or Indiana Jones whip crack, account for far more actual work for our citizens. These states start their credits at 20 or 25%, have less limitations, and widen to other incentive areas. 

Our modest, but imperative, policy is currently at risk on multiple fronts, including this bill currently in consideration in the state legislature aimed at abolishing these credits. Please email your legislator supporting these tax credits and encourage expanding them. 

I am in post-production, owning a small business here in Connecticut, and the vast majority of my work comes from these smaller and mid-tier budgets. This work allows me to help take care of my wife and kids, and even keep a savings to boot. This is true for the vast majority of these real jobs; dependent not on the glamor of Hollywood, but more likely the indie film, cable show, local commercial, or event promo. 

Connecticut not only needs to keep its higher tier of credit, but expand its incentives for these lower tiers as they have done in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and beyond. This state needs to create conditions that continue to entice both the companies and productions here to our state, because chances are, you are reading this piece while staring into a screen - a screen that likely has also entertained or informed you through a program made possible by a production shot somewhere with real people who were able to work and get paid accordingly. That work needs to happen here in this state so all of us can benefit.

Justin Matley is the owner of Black Oak Sound and on faculty at the University of Connecticut-Stamford. He lives with his wife and daughters in Norwalk.

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