Tax Incentives and Diversity Initiatives Spark Illinois Film and TV Production

When it comes to any entertainment industry production, whether it’s a tentpole film or an independent commercial, creative choices must vie against the ever-important bottom line. Working in a state with tax incentive programs means productions can have the best of both worlds.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker just signed a 10-year extension for the state’s film-friendly tax incentive program, which guarantees productions 30% back on eligible expenses through Jan. 1, 2033. The credit was recently expanded to include eligibility for nine key positions for non-residents: director, writer, DP, production designer, costume designer, production accountant, visual-effects supervisor, editor and composer.

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Peter Hawley, deputy director of the Illinois Film Office, says applying for and receiving the incentives is an easy process with “plenty to go around” since there’s no cap on the state’s limits and how many productions may be approved.

“We’re really set up to have production come in here and go to work right away,” says Hawley, whose background as a former film professor and filmmaker give him a unique understanding of what productions need most.

The minimum budget for qualified projects under 30 minutes is $50,000 and for over a half-hour it’s $100,000. While Hawley jokes that the application involves a lot of white space, the implication is clear: Illinois wants to make it as easy as possible for productions to come, have a good experience and return in the future.

The film commission understands the realities of timing and accommodates the needs of different types of productions. Films and television shows can apply for the tax incentives as late as five days before commencing principal photography; commercials have until 24 hours beforehand.

Though officially it can take 45 days for Hawley and the legal department to sign off on applications, productions have ample time to submit. Upon approval, they’ll receive an accredited production certificate (APC) that allows them to send in their claims even years later depending on scheduling, timing and accounting for bigger budget productions.

While the state offers top-notch airports, hotel accommodations and restaurants, that’s actually not the most germane component for application approval. Almost surprisingly, the goal is for productions to note that they’re coming to Illinois specifically for the tax incentives.

For productions seeking to hire Illinois residents in order to maximize their returns, the film office is devoted to cultivating a diverse, well-trained crew. With educational infrastructure in place and multiple programs aimed specifically at creating a knowledgeable local work force, the state makes it simple for productions.

There is an additional 15% incentivized bump for hiring crew from underserved areas in the state as determined by census data. The Illinois Film Office requires a breakdown of the gender and ethnicity of state-based crew and productions must prove their attempts to fulfill roles according to the initiative, and that may include providing contact information for anyone they attempted to hire beyond the actual contracted crew.

“We have, perhaps, the most diverse crew base in the country,” says Hawley. While there is some variance, APC-holding projects fill roughly 50% of their positions with women and minorities.
When productions sell off their tax incentives, a portion of the transfer fee goes toward funding the training programs. In that sense, the entertainment industry is developing its own in-state talent to call upon for years.

Illinois has worked tirelessly to provide the necessary infrastructure that productions depend upon in any film-friendly state. In addition to the tremendous crew base, the state can supply productions with vendors and studio spaces to fulfill all of their needs. There’s a bonus: on top of the tax credits, “it’s also typically less expensive to film here in Illinois than it is on the coasts,” Hawley says.

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