By Dom Serafini
In early June, during an article about film production incentives from U.S. states, two writers for The Wall Street Journal went off on a tangent arguing that “throwing money at Hollywood producers is a policy guaranteed to flop.”
Obviously, the WSJ‘s writers were not aware of the truism that “in order to make $1 million in Hollywood, one has to to start with $10 million,” meaning that production is a risky business. No free money is thrown here. In other words, production is an expensive proposition and incentives help the states and cities as much as producers. However, a day earlier, the same New York City financial daily announced: “New York City to tie tourism campaign to movie.” The movie is the musical drama In The Heights.
So what gives? According to the WSJ‘s op-ed piece jointly written by Pat Garofalo, who’s a director at the American Economic Liberties Project, and Michael LaFaive, who’s a director at the Mackinac Center For Public Policy, the states’ incentives don’t deliver.
As an example, the authors cited the case of Michigan, which invested $186,519 for every job created in 2008 with film incentives. The return, reported the authors, consisted of 2,763 short-term movie jobs that had the same economic impact as 254 full-time, year-long jobs. They also added that, after spending $500 million on film incentives between 2008 and 2015, Michigan saw only a modest increase in film-industry jobs.
However, after eliminating its tax-credit film program in 2015, the state of Michigan is now reinstating it. This is because film incentives also stimulated jobs in its supply chain (indirect jobs not accounted for by the duo of authors), and provided a very effective advertising campaign for tourism (also not accounted for). In 2012 tourists brought $1.1 billion to Michigan, but it’s unclear whether that figure was generated from the movies’ exposure or the $13 million that the state invested in out-of-state TV advertising.
An answer to that question might possibly be found in the reasons New York City is launching a campaign tied to the movie In The Heights, which is promoting an area of Manhattan called Washington Heights, which is north of 96th Street, and is populated by a diverse Latin community. It is part of a $30 million campaign to help bring tourism back to the city.
Produced by Warner Bros., a good portion of the In The Heights film was shot around 175th Street and utilized its natural rocky topography.
One movie that bought many tourists to New York City was the 2019 movie, Joker, which included the now-famous scene on the staircase of West 167th Street in the Bronx, now dubbed “the Joker stairs” (pictured above).
Location Tours, which offers tours built around New York City-centric movies and TV series, like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Sex and The City, and Joker, is now adding In The Heights to its itinerary. Other iconic NYC movie sites include the Fire House Ladder 8 (from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters) and Katz’s Delicatessen (from the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally).