To The Desert
Nevada Sweetens Incentives
For Las Vegas Film Production
But Will The Industry Grow?
– By Elena Castriota
As you enter through the doors of the restaurant and lounge, D’ Coffee Shop, the atmosphere feels otherworldly and mystical, somewhat apart from reality. Antiques and baubles adorn any empty space on the walls and surfaces, clocks of all sizes hang at jaunty angles and rich colors of burgundy and mahogany envelop the dining room.
This isn’t just a restaurant, however: it’s a television set.
Lakisha Swift, the owner of D’ Coffee Shop and star and producer of D’ Coffee Shop Closes at 9pm, is forced to juggle her passion for acting with her need to make a living, as many in the budding Las Vegas film and television scene must. “It is a long strenuous, tedious ordeal,” she explains. “There’s a lot of hurry up and waiting.”
The Twilight Zone-esque series isn’t being pitched to major networks. Swift, like other producers in Nevada, is producing the series independently to sell to a streaming service. “We want to keep control and creativity over this,” says Swift, who’s been acting for the past 20 years. “Sometimes it’s good when you can make your own.”
Countless individuals and companies seek the financial benefit of Nevada’s low-cost living versus California, its more expensive border cousin, and for people in entertainment production, there’s a trade-off: Creatives in Las Vegas have no choice but to film low-budget, independent films and shows, as the market—and money—for making big movies and small-screen series is primarily located 270 miles away in Los Angeles…the center of the industry.
“Most who are independent filmmakers have other jobs,” explains Brenda Daily, CEO of Mamabird Productions, an independent film company. “We’re not getting the work out here we’d like to have, and that’s why we’re not growing the film industry as we could.”
In 2010, unlike many states that aspire to be film-friendly, Nevada wasn’t offering tax incentives to those who wanted to film in the state. As a result, the Nevada Film Incentive Task Force (now, the Nevada Film PAC) lobbied state legislators to pass laws providing tax credits to attract production to the state.
Senator Aaron D. Ford, the co-sponsor of the eventual bill, promised his constituents that he would diversify Nevada’s economy and bring in new industry. He hopes to do so with the film incentive.
“Our state has an ideal location for the film business, rich with iconic landmarks like the Las Vegas Strip and Lake Tahoe, and it possess many workers who are trained in the technical and creative aspects of the film business,” he says in a video on his Nevada state website.
In 2013, the film incentive bill was passed and the state agreed to give $20 million per year for 4 years in tax credits. But things got complicated in 2014, when Tesla explored Nevada as a possible location for its Gigafactory and looked to the state legislature for funding. As a result, all but $10 million of the funding promised for tax credits, as well as money from other programs, went to Tesla. In 2015, the bill was brought to the floor in an attempt to bring the program back to its former funding but it has not been voted on.
Joshua A. Cohen, co-chair of the Nevada Film PAC and founder of Cohencidence Productions, LLC, as well as a few other film-related business ventures, is hoping to change the landscape of filming in Las Vegas and the state of Nevada.
“Statewide production volume has tanked over the last 15 years. The number of productions is increasing, but each is spending less locally,” says Cohen. “The big, multi-million dollar productions are going to other states with funded incentive programs. There is enough crew base and infrastructure here to handle three major productions at once, like we did in 2014.”
The Nevada Film Office (NFO) is a government agency that promotes the state of Nevada as a film and production area; assists in hiring local crews; helps to find facilities, lodging and rental equipment, and much more. It is required by the state that all productions are registered with the NFO and that a permit must be granted by local jurisdictions.
Film permits hit an all-time high in 2015 with 436 granted for filming in the public write away, up from 400 in 2014, 343 in 2013 and 226 in 2012. (This number does not include filming on private property, however, so the number of films and productions is likely significantly higher than what is reported.)
“I think that our government employees do a really good job helping businesses get things done, but they require that the law is observed so they can take care of our community,” says Michael Stein, a partner at the law firm Snell & Wilmer.
Stein stressed the importance of getting a permit while working on public land, especially national parks. “I think it’s very important that before production they find a Nevada attorney to help them,” he says. Many filmmakers run into trouble without consulting a lawyer, or from using one that is not an expert in Nevada law.
Looking toward the future, Jason Miller from Silver State Productions hopes to keep recent graduates from the University of Nevada Las Vegas local, instead of watching them move to the increasingly saturated Los Angeles film community. “Students from UNLV are so great, but are being forced to move to L.A., so we’re losing these really quality people—young people that any state should want.” By staying, Miller argues that they will buy homes and put their money into the local economy, helping more than just the film industry.
Although the film and television industry in Las Vegas and Nevada is only now picking up, there are already capable, passionate individuals who are determined to help their state grow to potentially bring thousands of new jobs to the state…if it’s not forced to move elsewhere.
“I’m still optimistic about building a film and television industry here,” adds Miller. “It’s a natural fit with Las Vegas’s branding as the Entertainment Capital of the World. We have plans to build a studio, and we anticipate getting our incentive funding back next session in 2017.”
Elena Castriota is a Boston-based freelance writer and social media marketer. She can be reached at email@example.com.