Oklahoma official renews call to boost film rebate in light of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

Republicans remain divided over Oklahoma film, television rebate program

By: - October 17, 2023 5:30 am

Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone star in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which was filmed in Oklahoma. (Photo provided)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s lieutenant governor hopes a blockbuster movie filmed in Oklahoma will reignite a legislative conversation about increasing the cap on the state’s film incentive.

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell hopes when lawmakers watch Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” in theaters, they think about the economic impact that production and others have had in the state.

“I hope it certainly is the catalyst,” Pinnell said. “I hope our legislators recognize when we make an investment in film and television at this level that there is a return on that investment for taxpayers, and it’s helping diversify our economy as well.”

But Republicans in the Oklahoma Legislature remain ideologically divided on whether the state should offer publicly funded incentives to television and movie productions and the appropriate level of funding for the rebate program.

The state currently offers up to $30 million a year for movie and television productions. Through the Filmed in Oklahoma Act of 2021, qualifying productions can receive a cash rebate of up to 37% on labor, goods and services related to filming in Oklahoma.

Pinnell supports raising the cap to $80 million annually. He said the state has turned away tens of millions of dollars’ worth of projects due to the program’s current funding restrictions.

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell is pictured during an interview in his office

In the most recently completed fiscal year, Oklahoma received 119 applications seeking a combined $158 million — $128 million more than the state had to offer — in film rebates, said Jeanette Stanton, director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office.

Legislation to raise the incentive cap to $80 million cleared the House this year but stalled in the Senate.

Noting “Killers of the Flower Moon” — the largest film production in state history — is already generating Oscar buzz, Pinnell said lawmakers might be more open to the conversation during the legislative session that starts in February.

The movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro depicts true events in 1920s Oklahoma when non-Native settlers killed wealthy members of the Osage Nation for their tribal oil rights.

“Next year is going to be a very good year for Oklahoma when it comes to film and television awards,” Pinnell said. “I think the timing could very well be right when it comes to raising that rebate.”

The rise in streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max and the fierce competition for studios to keep churning out new television shows and movies has significantly increased the number of productions filming at any given time, Pinnell said.

“Reservation Dogs,” “Tulsa King,” “Twisters” and “August: Osage County” are among other productions that also were filmed in Oklahoma.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” qualified for incentives under a previous iteration of the rebate program, called the Compete with Canada Act. Launched in 2001 as the state’s first film incentive, the program was most recently capped at $8 million annually.

The program, which will end in 2027, was replaced by the Filmed in Oklahoma Act.

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Apple Original Films and Paramount Pictures, the production companies developing “Killers of the Flower Moon,” spent $127 million to film in Oklahoma, Stanton said. She would not say how much the companies will receive in state rebates.

Stanton said potential new clients often ask about “Killers of the Flower Moon” filming in the state, something she attributed to the prominence of Scorsese.

Nearly every state offers some sort of film incentive, she said.

The programs run the gamut from $12 million offered in Utah, to about $120 million in New Mexico and $150 million in Louisiana. Georgia doesn’t have a cap on its rebate, and Texas just approved a robust new incentive program, Stanton said.

“It can be pretty competitive,” she said. “Filmmakers and studios, on some level, they’re all shopping for the best incentive they can get.”

Sometimes when the Film and Music Office rejects rebate applications, Stanton will see that television or movie production film in another state. Other times the projects fizzle out due to timing or funding, she said.

Rep. Jim Grego, R-Wilburton, said the success of “Killers of the Flower Moon” shows the state’s film incentives are working as is.

“If they were able to come under the old rebate system and make a high-quality movie and have great success, I think others can, too,” he said.

Grego said he thinks production companies will continue to seek out filming locations in Oklahoma, regardless of the size of the state’s rebate.

Grego voted against the bill to raise the rebate cap to $80 million.

“I’m just tired of giving away state money,” he said. “We can’t keep giving money away for everybody to come to Oklahoma. I think we’ve got plenty of incentives that they’ll want to come and do business here.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said he supports increasing funding for film incentives.

The state is more than earning its money back on the incentives because film productions are creating new jobs and supporting local businesses, he said.

“I see the big return on the investments,” Thompson said. “If we’re looking at something that really helps rural Oklahoma, the current investment credits help in rural Oklahoma a lot with film.”



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Carmen Forman
Carmen Forman

Carmen covers state government, politics and health care from Oklahoma City. A Norman native, she previously worked in Arizona and Virginia before she began reporting on the Oklahoma Capitol.