Film Production Tax Credits Make Show Business Boom in Cincinnati

Ohio’s film production tax credits have helped build an industry, but other states are now outbidding us.

Photograph by Hatsue

Film Cincinnati Executive Director Kristen Schlotman is well aware that the term “show business” emphasizes both words equally. For all the historic buildings and picturesque settings filmmakers find here, their movies are businesses, too, and production locations and partners are often selected with financial considerations in mind.

The Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit, launched in 2009, offers a refundable tax credit of 30 percent on cast and crew wages for films produced here, plus other eligible in-state spending. That’s resulted in $1.2 billion in gross economic output and 6,192 full-time equivalent jobs in the state from film projects, Schlotman says, and has helped build an industry from scratch. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without this tax credit,” she says. “It’s the first thing filmmakers ask about.”

Unfortunately, other states are doing the same thing—and doing it better—which leads to lots of movies, especially big-budget Hollywood fare, setting up camp elsewhere. Ohio caps the total amount of tax credits at $40 million per year, which has resulted in Film Cincinnati having to turn away potential productions. “I have a list here of [at least] 23 movies that wanted to film in Cincinnati in 2022 but decided to go elsewhere because the tax credits were used up,” says Schlotman.

Georgia is the busiest movie production state outside of California, with $4.4 billion in direct film spending in 2021 alone. It offers the same 30 percent tax credit as Ohio with some modifications, but has no cap, so Georgia can take every movie production that wants to come. As a result, permanent sound stages have been built and almost 100,000 full-time equivalent production jobs have been created in Georgia.

Schlotman and her counterparts at the Greater Cleveland Film Commission have been lobbying state officials to eliminate the tax credit cap. She’s certain that Ohio can compete with Georgia and other states for more and larger movie productions, but is concerned that Kentucky recently increased its annual tax credit limit to $75 million and Pennsylvania to $100 million. “The movies we do get would not come here without this credit,” she says. Ohio Senate Bill 341 was introduced in May 2022 to uncap the tax credit program and offer infrastructure tax credits for permanent studio facilities, but it was immediately referred to the Ways and Means Committee and never received a hearing before last year’s session ended. Schlotman is hopeful the new legislature will take up the cause this year.

“Incentivizing movie production is as bipartisan an issue as you’ll ever find,” she says. “The tax credit cap was raised from $10 million to $40 million over the years as we showed elected officials the return on their investment. Now we’re turning movies away. They obviously have plenty of other options.”

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