Minnesota Becomes Land of 10,000 Opportunities with New Incentive Launch

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Joseph Chianese
Joseph Chianese Member Posts: 116
edited November 2023 in Producers

Minnesota introduces a new tax incentive program to renew the state’s status as a dynamic location for filmmakers.

Minnesota may be known as the land of ten thousand lakes, but it has also been the home to many important productions. Beyond the vast array of holiday-themed films and television programs featuring snow-covered fir trees, critic and cult-fan favorites like Prince’s Purple RainThe Mighty Ducks, and the quintessentially Minnesotan and Academy Award winning film, Fargo, have all been filmed in Minnesota. With its new incentive program, great location offerings and strategies for boosting crew training and DEI initiatives, Minnesota promises a bright future for filmmakers.

Starting in 1922 with the feature film Free Air, Minnesota has hosted many television shows, large studio pictures and independent films, most recently North Country (Warner Bros), Dear White People (Netflix), A Serious Man (Focus Features), Factotum (IFC), and Sweet Land (20th Century Fox). Minnesota has also been the backdrop for top-rated shows on ABC, Amazon, HGTV, The Travel Channel, National Geographic, The Food Network and Lifetime. 

Minnesota also has the 3rd largest acting pool outside of NY and LA because of its world-class theater scene, which has produced stars like Amy Adams, John Carroll Lynch and Josh Hartnett, as well as talented set designers, costume designers and other artists.

Despite this cinematic history, Minnesota’s lack of a robust tax incentive caused the state to fall behind other locations with more attractive programs, like those available just north of the Canadian border. A small rebate program, infamously dubbed “Snowbate,” first introduced in 1997, attracted small films, commercials and DIY shows, but large and consistent productions and millions of dollars in production spend were lost to neighboring jurisdictions. 

The Executive Director of Minnesota Film and TV, Melodie Bahan, laments the loss of these projects, “The state has so much to offer, and it not only hurts our state when we haven’t had those productions, it hurts the industry because we do have so much in terms of talent, work ethic, locations and quality of life.” Turning toward hope, she adds, “I’m just trying to be a matchmaker here.”

Everything changes now, with the state’s new incentive program. 

Minnesota's film tax credit program

Minnesota started pursuing the reintroduction of a viable tax credit in 2017, with a trial program soon following in 2021. Bahan advocated for years to educate the public and legislature on the importance of the tax credit. She now sees the rewards with the significantly expanded credit passed in 2023. 

Key features of the Minnesota tax credit include:

  • Increased annual cap on the credits to $25 million (from $5 million annually in 2021)
  • Sunset extended for 8 additional years to December 31, 2030
  • 25% transferable tax credit on production companies with a minimum of $1 million in qualified expenditures in Minnesota

And most recently, the state approved a 15% credit on non-resident Below the Line (BTL) labor, which will support larger budget projects in need of larger crews.

In addition to the state incentive, Minnesota also offers several local incentives, including the Iron Range Regional Production Incentive Program, as well as an incentive in St. Louis County (which includes the very scenic city of Duluth) as well as municipal incentives in the cities of Duluth, Austin and Maple Lake. These county, municipal and regional incentives can be bundled with the Minnesota State Incentive. 

"Minnesota’s transferable tax credit also strengthens the new program” says SVP of Production Finance at 101 Studios, member of the Minnesota Film and TV Board and an EP client, David Malver, highlighting the strong business environment in Minnesota eager to utilize the transferable credit. “With major headquartered businesses like Target, Best Buy, US Bank, General Mills as well as many entrepreneurs and taxpayers ready to pay for any remaining credits, the 25% transferable credit is a highly appealing part of the incentive program” Malver says.

For more details please visit the Minnesota Government page on the Film Production Tax Credit.

Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand in 'North Country' / Warner Bros.

Minnesota offers a variety of location benefits

Minnesota’s attraction for filmmakers extends beyond an exciting incentive program. Advocates highlight beautiful locations, training programs, DEI initiatives and quality of life that make Minnesota a great place to film.

The 'Land of 10,000 locations,' Minnesota offers far more than snow. As Bahan says, “We can double for just about anything - except maybe the tropics!” The 12th largest state in the US, Minnesota offers a variety of climates (and all four seasons!) and stunning locations ranging from urban city centers to rustic and rural farmland, to sparkling coastlines and dense forests.

Not interested in a frosty holiday scene? Consider Minnesota for your summer productions. As global temperatures rise, Minnesota’s summer climate is poised to remain more mellow than the sunny season in southern locations and daylight hours extend to 9:30pm in June.

While recognizing the appeal of larger filming hubs, Andrew Peterson, Executive Director of FilmNorth, highlights how Minnesota is a convenient place to film as a double for logistically difficult locations, “We all know that to shoot [there] is a logistical nightmare, whether it's the unions, the logistics, the cost of hotel rooms and all this sort of stuff… When you can get the same look here for half the price, why wouldn't you?”

Notably, the Twin Cities airport is ranked among the top in the country; it's 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. Another 15 minutes after that, you're standing on a farm.

When comparing incentives, Peterson also cautions, “When comparing 25% in this state to 25% in that state, one thing we oftentimes don't take in is what are the other things that cost money on the set; the things that we don't necessarily realize.”

Malver agrees with Peterson that it is important to look at the true cost of production, including your time. Because Minnesota doubles so well for other locations, why not take advantage of an available and skilled crew with Minnesota’s convenience? 

Primary 1st AD (and DGA member) Van Hayden also commented on how welcome the state and residents are to production. As he can attest, compared to more established locations with residents jaded by constant filming, Minnesotans are excited to ramp up production. 

Whether you’re looking for an urban coming-of-age, a rural romance or a bit of both, you’ll be able to find it in Minnesota.

Training programs and career opportunities 

Minnesota now looks to grow training programs to create more local jobs. Bahan hopes to model the Minnesota program off of the Made in New York Production Assistant Training Program which provides hands-on experience to unemployed and low-income NYC residents. In the meantime, plenty of robust training programs already exist through colleges, nonprofits and Indigenous-specific initiatives like MIGIZI. Notably, Minnesota is also home to America's largest Hmong community and Somali community and includes 11 Native American tribes.

Peterson and the team at FilmNorth are also key contributors to these efforts. Their aim is to lift talented workers already in Minnesota and connect diverse people with experienced professionals, work opportunities and technical resources. From youth programs and continuing education grants to Sundance selection labs and screenings, FilmNorth has an expansive collection of resources to support filmmakers.

Currently under construction, the $13 million FilmNorth Media Arts Center will further support Minnesota with equipment and spaces for production. Peterson hopes that they can demonstrate how great films can be made anywhere and support regional filmmaking for industry culture change. “I'm excited because FilmNorth is really about developing regional talent. Find your voice here. This distinctive, creative voice in this little place where we live, it does connect with the world.”

Promoting diversity in Minnesota filmmaking is also a major goal of FilmNorth. Peterson described their approach as “the scalpel versus the sledgehammer.” Offering programs designed to uplift diverse workers from Minnesota that have not yet had the opportunity to earn a major credit, their philosophy revolves around training leaders; “you're training somebody who will hire crew and impact a lot of production decisions” Peterson says. Training a diverse group of future industry leaders will lead to a stronger Minnesota crew base for years to come.

While no diversity reporting is required for incentive qualification just yet, industry leaders do anticipate it will be a requirement of any state-directed training program in the future.

Studio Thirteen Future Filmmakers Lab / FilmNorth

A great place to live and work

Not only does Minnesota have extensive benefits for filmmakers, but the current state government is working quickly to develop programs that will make Minnesota an attractive place for crew members to stay.

The film commission wants to attract long-term projects, like TV series, to bolster the crew base and to stimulate Minnesota’s economy. Independent films will also be beneficial in creating opportunities for new crew. With these goals, the responsibility exists to ensure Minnesota is a place that crew and talent want to stay. Often underrated, Minnesota offers many programs and policies that will benefit filmmakers and crew open to the state.

“It’s really a good place to live and work. For folks that are producing, particularly for a series and you’re going to be here long-term, you need to know that your employees will have access to [things like] healthcare. It is a very comfortable place,” Bahan comments.

Both home-grown Minnesotans that have returned after moving away, Malver and Hayden enjoy what the state has to offer with its beautiful locations and kind, hardworking neighbors. “It’s hard to get people to come to Minnesota, but once they’re here, it’s even harder to get them to leave,” Hayden says. The “esprit de corps” from the community and neighborliness combined with the lack of traffic and smog have made Minnesota a great place to relocate to for Malver and Hayden, and they hope more industry members will see the value of Minnesota.

Minnesota’s film future

Capitalizing on the state’s benefits, the Minnesota Film and TV Office hopes the new incentive program will showcase the best of Minnesota. From a small but mighty crew base to stunning diverse locations, Minnesota is an exciting place for filmmaking. And expanded training programs, DEI resources and filmmaking tools are all contributing to Minnesota as a magnet for filmmakers for years to come. 

David Malver hopes that the increased annual cap (up to $25M) and extended sunset date (until 2030) will attract more productions, knowing that the money is secure. A long-time supporter of the Minnesota incentive program, even writing his first college essay at the University of Minnesota on why the state needed an incentive program, Malver believes that the new incentive can accomplish three goals: serving the workers, protecting the state and working for the industry at large. He hopes that success with the credit will also demonstrate to the legislature just how beneficial film and TV production can be to Minnesota. 

Hayden also shares an optimistic outlook for the incentive’s success. Before the revised program, there was a perception that the credits would only benefit wealthy, nonresident companies. Instead, he hopes state economic leaders will see that film can also create blue-collar and union-wage jobs, proving just how powerful this industry can be for the state.

Headed to Minnesota? Here’s how EP can help.

Looking to take advantage of Minnesota’s incentive program? Contact EP’s Production Incentive team, North America’s leading provider of film and TV production incentive services. Our expertise is an unmatched resource for productions.

Servicing all jurisdictions, we can help you find the perfect incentive location to film your next project. When you're ready to start scouting, check out our incentives map to get an idea of what kind of production incentive programs are available to you. Then, let our team of incentive experts take you from budget to the monetization of your production incentive.

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