Christopher Crane On the Incentives To Film in Arkansas

Christopher was born in Hot Springs and has worked as an actor and technician in theater, film, television and music. He served on the staff of U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers and as a community development leader for the March of Dimes and taught film and theater for eight years at Parkview Arts & Science Magnet High School in Little Rock.  

Since August 2007, Crane has been the state film commissioner, overseeing the promotion, recruitment and development of the state’s film industry by marketing Arkansas to a national and international film clientele. As film commissioner, he also is responsible for the statewide Digital Product & Motion Picture Incentive Program.

About 40 states offer some sort of incentive to attract Hollywood productions to their state. But some officials have begun to wonder if they’re getting their money’s worth. Do you think incentives are worth it? How do you measure their value?

I can tell you unequivocally that most states would not have any feature film activity without incentives. It is, after all, a bottom-line business. If you look at the history of “film incentives,” the true purpose was to lure production away from Hollywood, and it worked. Traditionally, those states that have either decreased their incentives or disbanded their programs altogether have seen the flight of feature films to other states or countries. Now, is it worth it? It really depends on the messenger. The trick to all of these programs is to make sure that the final outcome of the state expenditure, at the very least, stays on the revenue-neutral side of the spectrum.

What impact did the movie “Mud” have on Arkansas?

I can tell you that you should have conversations with many of the vendors used during the filming of “Mud”; they will sing its economic praises. These production companies purchase local goods and services and increase short-term employment and spending throughout the area. When you look at the impact, you truly do need to couch it in terms of having a huge convention in your area for several months. When speaking about just the cast and crew, these people rent houses, apartments, hotel rooms, eat, drink, buy gas, use the dry cleaners, buy local art, go to local entertainment venues, etc. They literally live in your community just as you do, and that’s not taking into account the direct spend of the production on the items needed to create the film itself. I think the circulation of the dollar on local level far exceeds the “impact model” that several detractors of film incentive programs use. “Mud” is also just a fantastic film — superbly acted, directed and shot. It’s a great calling card for what can be accomplished in film in Arkansas.

What challenges do you face in trying to lure a filmmaker to shoot a movie in Arkansas?

It differs for every project, but day to day, it’s still a bottom-line industry. You can have the best crew-base in the world, the most beautiful locations in the universe, but if another state is giving the producers an extra 10 percent incentive, that’s generally where they will head.

What do film festivals, such as the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, mean to the state?

What a jewel! All of our film festivals are living, breathing pieces of the creative, cultural and economic pies. The recent 22nd Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, held Oct. 11-20, generated significant economic impact in the Hot Springs area. The first level of impact involved direct expenditures made by the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute to produce the festival, followed by a second level of spending by festival attendees. As HSDFF continues its exponential growth, it will be responsible for increasing tax revenue as well as growth in tourism numbers from within the state and beyond.