Shocker: Government Subsidization of Movies Comes With Editorial Strings Attached


The New York Times details the inevitable:

When Andrew van den Houten got a letter two weeks ago rejecting his request for Michigan public money to help finance his latest horror movie, "The Woman," it came with an admonition about the state's good name.

"This film is unlikely to promote tourism in Michigan or to present or reflect Michigan in a positive light," wrote Janet Lockwood, Michigan's film commissioner. Ms. Lockwood particularly objected to "this extreme horror film's subject matter, namely realistic cannibalism; the gruesome and graphically violent depictions described in the screenplay; and the explicit nature of the script."

Michigan's unemployment rate, for those keeping score at home, "still leads the nation," at 14 percent. The state's budget remains in crisis. And yet they're paying a film commissioner to dole out subsidies and issue content suggestions to Hollywood movies. As stone-crazy as that sounds, the Great Lakes State is not alone. More from the NYT:

Among the states that began underwriting film and television production with heavy subsidies over the past half-decade — 44 states had some sort of incentives by last year, 28 of them involving tax credits — at least a handful are giving new scrutiny to a question that was politely overlooked in the early excitement: What kind of films are taxpayers paying for? […]

Whether such payments ultimately benefit a state and its economy has been the subject of ferocious debate. Some monitors of the programs contend that the supposed benefits from job creation and tourism do not make up for the monies spent. The Michigan State Senate Fiscal Agency estimates the subsidies will amount to about $132 million in the next year.

I'll say it again: States who are handing out scarce goodies to fancy filmmakers are states that are not even close to grappling with the fact that We Are Out of Money. They deserve another $50 billion from the federal government like we deserve to listen to Ted Nugent.

Ah, and here's some commenter bait: Arizona immigration! Subsidies! Waco!

In Texas, the verdict is still out on "Machete," a thriller from the filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, set for release by 20th Century Fox in September.

In May, Mr. Rodriguez used a mock trailer to promote the movie as a revenge story targeted at Arizona in the wake of its new anti-illegal immigrant law. Conservative bloggers and others then called on the Texas film commission to deny it support under a rule that says the state does not have to pay for projects that include "inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion."

Bob Hudgins, the film commission's director, said he had never yet denied financing to a film under the provision — though he warned the makers of a picture about the Waco raid that they need not apply because of what Mr. Hudgins saw as inaccuracies about the event and people connected with it.

Speaking of which, if you haven't seen the Machete trailer, it's pretty awesome:

NYT link via the Twitter feed of media critic Dan Kennedy, who adds: "[This is] why direct govt subsidies for journalism are a terrible idea." Reason on film subsidies here.