Three states showcase how tax incentives can create a more diverse industry workforce
By Miles Dobis
In a marketplace defined by shifting business models and content strategies, increased scrutiny has been also placed on the entertainment industry for lack of representation in front of and behind the camera. There have been efforts in recent years for increased visibility of non-white, LGBTQ and women-led stories on film and television, and several state governments have created a new model to both bring productions beyond hubs like southern California and to increase representation in the industry.
Called DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) initiatives, these efforts financially benefit productions that not only film in a particular state but also integrate underrepresented groups into their production team. If a certain threshold is met, additional tax credits are granted to productions at the conclusion of filming. This way, minority groups are granted more access to career mobility on film shoots, and filmmakers can tell stories set in states beyond commonly depicted cities like New York and Los Angeles. It will also hopefully lead to diversified content that reflects the audience it was made for.
For example, California, which remains the single-largest entertainment industry employer in the English-speaking world, is 40% Latino, 35% white, 16% Asian American and 6.5% Black, according to the most recent U.S. census. However, according to a California Film Commission report, the state’s industry remains 70% white and 75% male. Because of this disparity, California has become the latest state to pass legislation that directly benefits productions with a diversified cast and crew.
Titled SB 485, the program became active on July 1, 2023, and will be “broadly reflective of California’s population in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.” In a model that California hopes will be adopted by many other states, all film and television productions must submit a diversity report that details the race and gender of its crew or future hiring goals. If the production meets its diversity goals or has provably made a “good faith effort” to achieve them, it will be eligible for an additional 4% tax credit on top of the 20% or 25% credit allowed under current law.
“As other states roll back peoples’ rights, California will continue protecting fundamental freedoms for all and welcome businesses that stand up for their employees,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom in a statement. “Extending this program will help ensure California’s world-renowned entertainment industry continues to drive economic growth with good jobs and a diverse, inclusive workforce.”
Similar efforts are underway in Illinois, which requires film and TV productions to submit a diversity plan before qualifying for the state’s tax credit and offers a 15% incentivized bump for hiring crew from underserved areas in the state as determined by census data. Combined with tax-funded training programs that develop craftspeople at local colleges, the DEI incentives have transformed the Chicago area and all of Illinois into a premier filming destination. The state’s success has proven how diversity initiatives can both broaden access to the industry and develop new production hubs. And the recent 10-year extension signed by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker means the current incentives will remain in place until 2033.
“We can boast one of the most diverse film crew bases in the country, and it’s very much due to the tax credit application and good faith efforts to add minority groups to production teams,” says Peter Hawley, deputy director of the Illinois Film Office. “Over the decade we’ve been requiring it, we’ve seen that representation disparity shrink in the state to the point that over 50% of our crew now consist of women or racial minorities as opposed to white men.”
The third state to directly benefit diverse crews financially is New Jersey, which offers a 2% Diversity Tax Credit to productions that actively hires women and minority creatives. The complete diversity plan will consider partnerships with local film school programs, recruitment strategies and storytelling practices that create a diverse workforce, and tracking sheets containing employee records to keep productions honest about hiring practices.
Producers and location scouts seeking discounted filming opportunities should consider these states for their next project—not only for the increased return on investment, but for their role in leading Hollywood towards a more equitable future.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
California Film Tax Credit: https://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/4713
Illinois Film Tax Credit: https://dceo.illinois.gov/whyillinois/film/filmtaxcredit/diversitydocuments.html
New Jersey Diversity Bonus: https://www.nj.gov/state/njfilm/incentives-credit.shtml
While the Palm Beach County Film and Television Commission (FTC) does not have specific diversity incentives, an incentive-style program offered through the Sponsorship & Development Program and The Palm Beaches TV lends priority to programming that is focused on diversity and inclusion. Small businesses wishing to participate in Palm Beach County’s contracting opportunities in the areas of Commodities, Construction and Professional Services may apply for small business certification. Sponsorship dollars are awarded to projects that support and stimulate tourism by offering an insider’s look into the area’s top attractions for travel and production. Applicants who are SBE-certified vendors with the County get additional scoring. One of the criteria for certification is that the small business be at least 51% owned, managed and controlled by one of more minority group and/or woman. This has led to the creation of several programs, with distribution in the marketplace outside Palm Beach County, that highlights The Palm Beaches as a world-class travel destination and has helped grow their expansive library of tourism-branded content.