Why the Criticism of NM Tax Subsidies for The Avengers is a Bogus Argument

(Courtesy: The Hollywood Reporter)

Oh, Think Progress, how I usually agree with you 110%, but I must disagree with  you on your latest take on New Mexico’s tax money spent on attracting the production of The Avengers to the Land of Enchantment.

In the skewering, Pat Garofalo quotes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

State film subsidies are a wasteful, ineffective, and unfair instrument of economic development. While they appear to be a “quick fix” that provides jobs and business to state residents with only a short lag, in reality they benefit mostly non-residents, especially well-paid non-resident film and TV professionals. Some residents benefit from these subsidies, but most end up paying for them in the form of fewer services — such as education, healthcare, and police and fire protection — or higher taxes elsewhere. The benefits to the few are highly visible; the costs to the majority are hidden because they are spread so widely and detached from the subsidies.

I understand much of the argument that CBPP makes, and on the surface it sounds like a good one. Tax subsidies for film production are risky investments, just as if you were a private investor in a film. Chances are, you will not make your money back. You would be better off investing in the stock market.

However much, if not all, of the arguments made by CBPP (and therefore, Think Progress) rely on major film productions returning over and over again or setting up shop in NM in order for the tax subsidies to make sense. It’s viewed in terms of permanent, stable, high-paying jobs for the state. In the immediate scheme of things, this sounds like a good argument. But there are other factors that don’t get taken into account.

Picking on The Avengers was probably not the smartest way to go. Hollywood productions always follow the money, no matter how irrational the path. Now that Joss Whedon’s film joined the billion-dollar club, you will be certain that more productions will come to NM. Was the script an urban drama set in NYC? Doesn’t matter. It’ll change to set in Santa Fe, because filmmakers and producers want that golden touch. Watch and see, it’ll happen.

Another reason why choosing The Avengers as the whipping boy is a bad idea is the large fan base the film and comic series obviously now have. Now that the film has turned mega, major fans will seek out visiting the places shown in the movie. I’ve not seen the film, but if such settings turn out to be prominent, the revenue for tourism could continue for decades. That’s the case for certain Hitchcock films, Chicago locations (due to Public Enemies and The Dark Knight) and, hell, I’ve even heard of people visiting Baltimore simply because John Waters made it so prominent in many of his films. If the film has an iconic scene with a unique place where movie magic happens, people will visit it. Don’t discount the obsessiveness of fans.

Major talents do go local and set up shop outside Hollywood, creating local employment (eg. The Wachowski Brothers forming Eon Entertainment).  Hopefully, more will do so and I expect it will happen with the film industry heading to a more streaming-based distribution. This leads to the final point completely being forgotten by Think Progress/CBPP:

Major film success brings more attention to independent filmmakers working in those locales.

With the billion-dollar success of The Avengers, you can be certain that the New Mexico film office (if they are wise) will take total advantage of the newly found attention for local talent. Local NM filmmakers can find it easier to fund indie projects and have distribution, especially locally. That attention can lead to the formation of new film festivals in the region and a reminder of how taxpayers should support the arts lest they lose any local talent.

So, Think Progress/CBPP, you have it wrong here. Yes, Hollywood many times is a vampire. Go through this blog and read other posts I’ve published if you don’t believe how much I hate the institution. But picking on states for making investments for what you view in short-term, loses sight of the bigger picture.

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