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050419-nws-Film Study

Filmmaker Dave Diebel stands outside the Belle Mehus City Auditorium in Bismarck on Friday. The historic auditorium is home to the Dakota Film Festival. He feels incentives could have an economic impact on the local economy.

North Dakota should have learned a long time ago that dreams of luring the film industry to the state are just that — dreams. The state has lost money pursuing a Hollywood hit.

Now, there’s a proposal to have a legislative study to examine whether movie incentives could be developed to lure filmmakers to the state. Under the proposal an interim committee would look at what neighboring states offer film companies and the possible economic impact. Legislators on the Legislative Management committee will decide what proposals to study before the 2021 legislative session.

The Tribune Editorial Board recommends the committee pass on the film study. The state hasn’t had any luck with the movie business. The most notable example is the “Wooly Boys” filmed in the Badlands in the fall of 2000 with actors Peter Fonda, Kris Kristofferson and Keith Carradine. The Bank of North Dakota approved a $3.9 million loan in 1999 for the film. However, the producers struggled to find a distributor and the film was shown in only a few theaters and was a financial failure.

In 2006 the Bank of North Dakota wrote off $1.66 million of the $3.9 million loan.

In 2013, a California-based company, Princebury Productions & Media, with a focus on family-oriented films, held a banquet to drum up support for a TV mini-series on Theodore Roosevelt’s life.

The company expressed an interest in establishing a film presence in the state and wanted to help develop North Dakota’s infrastructure for a film industry. They suggested the state offer tax incentives to filmmakers or establish an active film commission division at the Department of Commerce.

Nothing came of the mini-series or the other proposals. Other efforts to shoot movies in North Dakota also failed to get off the ground.

As the legislative session was winding down last month House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, was asked by some Bismarck filmmakers to help revive unsuccessful 2013 legislation for film incentives. Boschee proposed a study and it was amended into the state Department of Commerce budget. Sara Otte Coleman, director of the state Tourism Division, told reporter Jack Dura that the state doesn’t offer any incentives, but does "support" interested filmmakers when contacted, usually with locations.

That’s how it should be done. In 2013 the Tribune editorialized that “Films wanting help from the state of North Dakota should be eligible for the same kinds of financial support and incentives as other business. There shouldn't be a special pool of money for movie companies. The state's past experience in funding film projects should be enough of a caution to warn off dreams of Hollywood on the prairie.”

The Tribune’s opinion hasn’t changed since the 2013 editorial. It would be great to have a movie blockbuster filmed in the state. The odds of that happening are slim. If a company wants to film in North Dakota it should be done on their own dime. The state can provide help where possible, but we shouldn’t foot the bill.

We understand the desire of young filmmakers for incentives, but unfortunately there’s unlikely to be much return on the investment. Financing needs to come from the private sector.

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