It’s a small state office with a small budget - just one person and a yearly operating budget of $123,000 - but a North Country state representative says it helps generate millions of dollars for the state of New Hampshire and has the potential to bring in more.
Right now, though, it’s on the chopping block.
State Rep. Timothy Egan, D-Sugar Hill, is among those lawmakers and industry leaders fighting to keep the New Hampshire Film and Television Office, which, after decades in operation, is not only at risk of losing its budget but of being entirely dissolved in Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed fiscal year 2022-2023 biennium budget.
“I understand looking at state government and making it efficient and I understand if a film office and the folks running it could be doing work better in a different way, but they’re talking about not just cutting the film office’s budget. They’re talking about dissolving the agency, which says to me it’s more about controlling power and ignoring an industry that has such great potential.”
He pointed out Northwoods Law, the television series that launched in New Hampshire in 2017 on the Animal Planet channel and follows the adventures of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
“I think most people in New Hampshire tout the fact that Northwoods Law is produced in the state of New Hampshire, how proud they are of that and of our Fish and Game officers,” said Egan, who has worked in television production in New England. “That’s packaged television and that doesn’t happen without the help and advice of a film office. You can’t create more of those if you don’t have an office where somebody is the voice for you and those industries.”
Although New Hampshire doesn’t offer film investment tax credits like states such as Massachusetts, its lack of sales and income taxes can make it an attractive state for film and television production companies, he said.
“Without a film office to let bigger organizations know that we have a viable marketplace, that’s another bad economic development policy,” said Egan.
Game Creek Video, which is based in Hudson and is the largest production firm in the sports programming business, offers mobile production TV units to some of the world’s largest production companies, television networks, and news organizations.
“That is the potential businesses that would move to the state because there’s no income tax, ‘and my employees will like that,’ and there’s no sales tax, ‘and my clients will like that,’ just like we’re trying to court manufacturing businesses or financial services businesses,” said Egan. “Film and TV is a multi-billion dollar business.”
“The Sound of Metal,” a drama film released in 2019, had several scenes filmed in New Hampshire, where its two producers are from.
“If you close a film office, what does that say to those business leaders?” said Egan.
Dissolving an office, in general, makes no operational sense and a budget instead can be zeroed out as operations are studied for a possible change, he said.
In any given year, the money generated in the state from film and television production is $10 to $15 million, said Egan.
Local communities have benefited from crews frequenting local businesses.
“It’s not a lot, we’re not Massachusetts or Illinois or Georgia, but we do get a lot of advertising revenue and we do get a lot of documentaries and reality shows,” he said. “Commercials are shooting here. We should look at how to engage the film and TV industry. I know we’re not going to give away tax credits here, but there could be other things that could draw film and television production companies to come here. I think when you shut that door, when you dissolve an agency, it basically takes the shingle off the wall and says we’re not even open for business … If you want to bring new businesses into the state, you have to market it to them.”
New Hampshire’s film and television office falls under the umbrella of the New Hampshire Department of Business.
In recent weeks, in the fight to keep the office, a growing number of industry and advertising leaders in New Hampshire have made their voices heard at the statehouse, among them Tim Messina, of Events United, of Portsmouth, and Travis York, a partner at GYK Antler and Big Brick Productions, of Manchester, one of the state’s largest advertisement agencies.
“They are all frustrated because we are making progress,” said Egan. “While we don’t have the financial give-back incentives of Massachusetts, we do have the no-sales-tax and no-income-tax incentives that New Hampshire throws out for manufacturers, and they are equally as important to smaller production companies that would want to set up shop here. They could go over to Massachusetts, but the business would still here. We are chopping off that potential by shutting off a film office. It says New Hampshire doesn’t care about TV and film. Unfortunately, it’s still a fight.”