Lack of tax incentives impacting Idaho's film industry

Posted at 12:43 PM, Mar 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-27 14:43:57-04

BOISE, Idaho — In recent years, the world of Hollywood has spread beyond southern California with entertainment industries booming in Georgia, Louisiana, and even in our neighboring state of Montana. But why not in Idaho?

A majority of states offer incentives to bring big film sets into town in the form of tax credits, rebates, and refunds. It can add up to millions of dollars, but in Idaho there are no incentives in place and local advocates say we're missing out on an opportunity to boost local economies.

For the last two years, Kumbali Satori, CEO of Higherkey, has been on a mission to bring big projects to the Gem State but when you put pen to paper, the incentives are undeniably more enticing elsewhere.

"My plan was to bring film here," Satori said. "When I moved here, I was like, 'Man, this is perfect. This is the perfect place to do film,' but without the tax incentives it's just hard to get companies to be like, 'Yeah, let's do this here instead of doing it in Montana.'"


Montana implemented film tax incentives in 2019 where hit shows like Yellowstone are now produced with a picturesque mountain backdrop one could argue could be replicated in Idaho.

"Come on Idaho, catch up!" Boise State Film Dept. Chair Richard Klautsch said. "We are the equal, right? In terms of topography, scenery, backdrops; what state is better than Idaho?"

KTVQ - Yellowstone set in Montana

"We do get phone calls from commercial companies, and every once in a while they do express frustration that Idaho does not have the resources that they're looking for," Montana film Commissioner Allison Whitmer said. "I have talked to several location scouts who have scouted Idaho and said, 'Oh, you know, there's no crew in Salmon so we're going to go to Missoula instead.'"

For example, consider a project with a $20 million budget. If they film in Idaho, they get nothing in return. If they take their production over the border to Montana, you're looking at 20-30% back on many expenses with a higher return for hiring locals.

"Sometimes film incentives are the, literally the, first question," Whitmer said.

And despite the potential competition, Whitmer says a growing film industry in Idaho would actually be beneficial for projects across the region.

"Idaho having a very small film industry is frustrating for us sometimes," Whitmer said. "You know, we really feel like we work regionally. There's no reason for you to bring a person or gear from New Mexico or Texas if we can get it from Idaho or Washington."


A lack of production opportunities in Idaho impacts local film students who are set on becoming part of the entertainment industry.

"This is the ultimate place to be shooting," associate professor Rulon Wood said, as part of the fast-growing film department at Boise State University. "They projected the growth of the film program here and thought maybe we'd have about 50 students at this time, and we've got about 150! We're buying new gear every year, it's crazy!"

Fairly new to campus, BSU's Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing is seeing tremendous interest from new students as the industry evolves into much more than what makes it into local theaters.

During the pandemic, peopled turned largely to home entertainment. New streaming platforms emerged, all pushing out more unique content than ever before with seemingly limitless opportunities for more.

"They spent $34 billion on content last year," Satori said. "In just like the Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix."

"Everything available to us through streaming, and everything else, that's not going to stop!" Klautsch agreed.

But at Boise State, on-the-job real-world experience on film sets isn't as readily available as it would be in other states where filmmakers are offered tax refunds to bring in big-budget projects.


Despite the lack of rebates offered in Idaho, Satori is working on securing investors for a $12-plus million dollar movie set in Sun Valley. The romantic comedy, titled Sunshine, follows the lead female character from her busy life in New York City to the small, quiet Idaho town where she visits with her parents and starts planning her wedding.

Although movie-making isn't all that common in the Gem State, advocates say the presence of production companies could offer employment opportunities in other industries and a boost to small-town economies.

"There are so many supplementary businesses that can provide for film shoots, wherever they happen to be," Klautsch said.

Opponents may argue film sets change the feel of small towns, but Whitmer with the Montana film office points out productions are not permanent.

"It's just like any other business; sure Hollywood's going come here, and they're going to leave millions of dollars behind. So they're going to come and stay in your hotels, eat in your restaurants, buy your souvenirs, hire locals, hire extras, and rent your cars. All of that money comes here and stays," Whitmer said.

Satori said Idaho is in a unique place because, without existing incentives in place, lawmakers could draft rebate requirements however they want, making it more appealing to hire local professionals and even Idaho film students.

"They always need part-time employees!" Klautsch said. "They could hire people from our universities. Our students could work, and they could intern with those companies."

That's exactly what Satori hopes to put into practice in Blaine County.

"We want to hire the local culinary school to cater there, we want to get interns from the universities so they can come and work on the set, see how things move," Satori said. "We also offered in there to get the students a credit in the movie."

"Across the board, it would be a win-win situation," Klautsch said. "And we've got the people here to do it!"

Satori has started the conversation with local universities and lawmakers and hopes legislation will be introduced on the topic next session.