producers say “Nashville” will need additional state and local incentives to justify the cost of filming in its namesake over other areas. They’ve estimated $44 million in direct spending in Tennessee and say costs continue to crop up.
Music City welfare queens
“We’ve already spent a lot of money on the infrastructure here,” the show’s producer, Loucas George, said, adding that he’s “discovered a lot of costs since coming here” compared to other common film venues.
The basic issue: Music City offers an authentic environment and musical talent that’s key to the show, producers said, but it doesn’t have a market of other film-related professionals, businesses and infrastructure to be a natural long-term fit — or enough government tax incentives to offset such costs.
"Discovered a lot of costs ... compared to other common film venues"? In one of the country's most affordable cities? And what other common film venues could possibly be cheaper than Nashville, which perpetually brands itself as a relatively low-cost alternative?
Maybe Cleveland? After all, there is some indication that producers might not require the "authentic environment" of Nashville. That claim could be a canard, a head fake that allows wealthy people to skip on meeting their civic obligations beyond fuzzy "economic impact". Producers of the motion picture The Avengers set their film in New York City, but replicated NYC with green screens and on location in Cleveland, Ohio:
For some of the character close-ups, they recreated the signature Big Apple bridgeway in front of a giant green screen inside an abandoned train station in Albuquerque. For the bulk of the street scenes, they relocated to a city not commonly mistaken for America’s most prominent metropolis: Cleveland.
Cleveland, a struggling Midwestern city with a population that has steadily declined from more than 500,000 in 1990 to 393,000 in 2011, got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to act as a body double for Manhattan, central borough of the city that never sleeps, population 8.24 million and rising. But not without a makeover: The movie’s production designers imported New York taxis, building facades, and street signs—along with a healthy supply of premade rubble—in order to replicate the look and feel of an invaded midtown Manhattan.
Why Cleveland? The decision to film in the Forest City can be explained in two words: tax subsidies.
Likewise, ABC producers could easily mimic Nashville's environment with CGI or sets. And there is no guarantee that if state and Metro officials cave to their demands and subsidize the soap opera, that producers would not locate another city that offered bigger subsidies where they could easily replicate Nashville's environment. Once state and local government starts down the road of subsidizing TV and film projects, there is nothing to stop competitive bidding and secondary markets to lure bottom-line producers away from "authentic environments".
And the true risk of this subsidy is worse. As if the fuzziness of economic impact were not significantly discouraging enough, there does not seem to be clear evidence that "investing" tax dollars itself guarantees returns:
But state-based film tax credits are a big idea without a big payoff. Currently 43 states offer the subsidies, which are worth a total of $1.5 billion. Multiple government reviews of those credits in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts have concluded that the subsidies typically fail to pay for themselves. Instead, states end up losing money paying for film productions that in many cases would have happened with or without the tax incentives.
Hence, the producers--always hell bent on cutting costs to free up revenues to put somewhere else--can generate their enterprise without tax incentives. As dire as they make their situation sound, as much as they beg poverty (a farce when one looks at the high-price marketing that goes into the production) they likely do not need the money. They likely sense that Tennessee and Nashville give cash away to people who already have huge amounts of it. They may just want a piece of the action. They sure as hell do not need our tax dollars as much as we do to pay for our schools, sidewalks, and parks.
For his part, Hizzoner seems to be straddling the fence:
The state has already extended $7.5 million to the show by reimbursing expenses. Metro Government has yet to offer tax breaks or cash grants. Mayor Karl Dean says he’s happy to talk about it.
“’Nashville’ – the show – you can’t buy that, you can’t get that for our city. I mean, we’re a city that is getting a lot of attention nationally, and ‘Nashville’ is a big part of it. I’m not commenting either way if we’re going to be a part of any sort of economic incentives. I’m just saying it is a big plus and a positive for Nashville.”
But if he lives up to his past habit of passing out corporate welfare with reckless disregard for the future delivery of Metro services, then ABC's "Nashville" producers are going to get what they want, whether it is good enough or not. The show should be called "Cashville".