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Arkansas Approves $5M for Filmmaking Incentives

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The Arkansas Cinema Society and the Fort Smith International Film Festival announced Friday that state lawmakers have approved a $5 million appropriation for film rebates.

The Arkansas Legislative Council approved the funding after a presentation by state Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe. The money will go to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, which has a film division that approves individual productions for rebates. The commission as a whole grants rebates and tax incentives to all kinds of businesses and industries.

The $5 million will fund incentive rebates for films through the end of this fiscal year, June 30, 2024. Senator Dismang helped find these funds to provide a needed stopgap until the next legislative session, the Cinema Society and film festival said in a news release. Dismang said he hopes the legislature and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ administration will work together to set up a sustainable funding source for Arkansas film incentives.

“Filmmaking is a fast-growing part of our economy in Arkansas and it’s something we need to support so we can remain competitive with our neighbors like Oklahoma,” Dismang said in a statement. “These jobs are bringing in tax revenue that exceeds their investment cost to the state. Myself and my colleagues are doing what we can in the legislature to raise this issue and continue support of the industry. We appreciate Governor Sanders’ past support and the advocacy of organizations like the Arkansas Cinema Society and Fort Smith International Film Festival.”

Film production in Arkansas directly employs many residents, and it creates other economic benefits as crews spend money on rooms, meals and other necessary items. A study by ChampionTraveler found that areas used as film locations can also benefit from boosts in tourism by as much as 31%.

In October, the Arkansas Economic Development Institute released a report, “An Economic Analysis of the Arkansas Film Production Industry: Impacts and Incentives,” that showed a $4 million return to the economy for every $1 million spent on film rebates.

The study also noted a general downward trend in Arkansas film employment from 2010 to 2020, rebounding in 2022 to total 260 employees. Arkansas Economic Forecaster and Chief Economist Michael R. Pakko, author of the AEDI study, said that the study didn’t suggest that workforce development was an objective, “other than being a byproduct of providing opportunities for employment” in filmmaking in Arkansas. The study says, “The best that could be said is that Arkansas has maintained a small, but active motion picture industry that has shown signs of recent expansion.”

Dismang and his allies are working for more parity.

Dr. Brandon Goldsmith, executive director of the Fort Smith International Film Festival and ACS’ newly named director of advocacy, said the numbers show that rebates work when they are paired with workforce development programs and a proactive film commission.

“We need the Legislature to add career readiness requirements to the incentives, because focusing on creating jobs is how we create a sustainable film industry,” Goldsmith said. “You have to understand movie hires are small business hires, your hair and makeup people own salons and the caterers have restaurants.” 

This story has been updated to clarify that the AEDI study did not conclude a lack of workforce development in the state’s film industry.

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