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Red states give Hollywood subsidies to shoot local — and get nothing out of the deal | Opinion

Jefferson Graham/Jefferson Graham via Imagn Conte

Sometimes I don’t know what Republicans are thinking. That’s true when they pointlessly try to depose their leaders, donate fives and tens to billionaires, and especially when they subsidize the hedonistic liberal cesspool that is Hollywood.

Don’t laugh. If you live in Kansas you came pretty close to paying to subsidize TV and movie production. In Missouri, you do. Deep red states Texas and Oklahoma are having a border war to see who can boost subsidies the most for an industry The Los Angeles Times called the “backbone” of the Democratic Party.

Red state subsidies have gotten so far out of hand that Hollywood’s mayor, I mean, California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom has to fork over billions to keep Hollywood filming in, er, Hollywood.

And it doesn’t make sense from any angle. The most common reasons given for Hollywood subsidies are tourism and jobs.


The tourism argument is thin. If the Netflix series “Ozark” is filmed in Georgia, are most viewers charmed by the crime-ridden backwoods of Missouri portrayed in the series going to spend their tourism bucks going to Atlanta back lots, or will they try out the real thing? It doesn’t make a difference where “Ozark” is filmed for the Ozarks to make bank. If “Hawaii Five-0” were filmed in Borneo or Brazil, would Hawaii’s beaches be any less beautiful or any less full? I don’t think so.

Which gets us to the most popular justification for subsidizing Hollywood and that’s jobs. This argument holds less water than tourism.

First off, they’re just temporary jobs, for the most part. Filming is, by its nature, temporary and shows only last a few seasons most of the time. As far as jobs go, it is easy come, easy go.

Moreover, research shows that the jobs that come from Hollywood are a figment of your imagination. “Peer-reviewed studies are unanimous that the incentives do not spur economic growth, nor do they create a sufficient number of jobs to justify the cost,” professor Michael Thom of the University of Southern California told me.

Even when Hollywood itself pays for the “studies” to bolster this argument — costing about a thousand bucks and based on an old forest management economic model — they have to admit, buried in the fine print, that about half of the projects that are shot anywhere would be shot there with or without subsidies.

It is not even as if there is any real debate. Think tanks from the right-leaning Mackinac Center for Public Policy to the left-wing Center on Budget and Policy Priorities agree: Film subsidies are wasteful.

The real reason that film subsidies have become so popular, metastasizing to dozens of states since Hawaii launched this foolish game in the 1990s, is that politicians love the kind of jobs that they can point to and say they created. Hollywood jobs always come with a press release and a lot of handshakes and booze. News coverage makes it seem like politicos did something for a change.

That’s great if you are a politician, but if you work for or run any other kind of business — say the kind that is here permanently and invests here for the long term — you have to ask yourself why you should pay higher tax rates than the vagrants who blow in from the coastal states and then disappear again in a few months. That’s stupid.

And Hollywood has already shown that it’ll use any leverage that comes with its jobs to try to change red America. Newsom has pointed out to Hollywood execs that red states have policies on issues Hollywood dislikes — say on abortions or who can use which bathroom — and Hollywood has dutifully pressured states who want to keep their film boodle.

I know, I know, flyover country has a self-esteem problem. We want the cool kids and all their sparkle to come here and make us feel cool, too. But we’re better than that — they’ll come even if we don’t pay them, so we shouldn’t.

David Mastio, a former editor and columnist for USA Today, is a regional editor for The Center Square and a regular Star Opinion correspondent. Follow him on X: @DavidMastio or email him at