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FILM OFFICE MAY CLOSE AS LOCHE YELLS
Copyright 2001 www.seattletimes.com

[ December 29th 2001 ]

From An Officer and a Gentleman to the upcoming Angelina Jolie comedy Life Or Something Like It, our picturesque state has played a supporting role in numerous feature films shot on location, thanks to the efforts of the Washington State Film Office.

Now, if Gov. Gary Locke's latest budget proposal comes to fruition, we might be seeing far less Washington on the big screen. The film office in Seattle, through the efforts of three staffers and a shoestring annual budget of about $375,000, facilitates production for film and television projects, encouraging filmmakers to take advantage of the state's resources.

They scout locations, arrange schedules and accommodations, and help filmmakers find local casts and crew for their productions. In return, the film companies spend a great deal of money in the state - in 2000, some $50 million. But, to cope with a budget revenue shortfall of $1.2 billion, Locke has placed some 30 state programs and agencies on the chopping block - and among them is the tiny film office. If the cuts are passed by the state legislature, the office faces a shutdown.

Suzy Kellett, managing director of the office, expressed great concern over the possibility of a closure. "I know this governor's having to make some extraordinarily difficult cuts. What saddens me is that this is an industry that has a high return on the dollar and puts thousands of local people to work," Kellett said. "At this time, with the economy as tough as it is, I just think this is an office you want to have."

Both Kellett and Sharon Wallace, communications director for the State Office of Trade and Economic Development (of which the film office is a part), said that return brings in an average of more than $100 for every dollar invested by the state. The office, Wallace added, is extremely cost-efficient: "We're one of the smallest operating budgets in the country for a state film office."

Through trade shows, limited advertising, and word of mouth, it attracts filmmakers to Washington. Other recent projects include the Stephen King miniseries "Rose Red" (due on television late next month), the Jennifer Lopez thriller "Enough," and the DreamWorks production "Ring." "Our job is to promote the state for feature film, television, and commercials, but it's also industrials, music videos, any kind of production," explained Kellett.

Mike Gowrylow, spokesman for Locke, doesn't dispute the office's value to the state, but says hard choices need to be made. "This is certainly no reflection on the job (the film office) is doing," he said. "They may indeed provide some economic stimulus. We're forced to balance the budget here, and the governor's proposal would close down some programs that do not seem to be our core operations."

"Essentially, things such as education or providing a safety net for vulnerable people are core programs that we need to maintain and sustain. Things that we don't consider to be core programs, as good as they may be, have to be sacrificed."

Donna James, director of the mayor's film and video office in Seattle, is alarmed by the possibility of the state office closing down. "The state office is the marketing arm of the film industry here," James explained. "They are the facilitators. If that office closed, it's going to incredibly increase the number of phone calls we get. We're just not prepared to handle it." James' office handles all permits for filming in Seattle traffic implications, property rights, police, fire, parks, etc.

Doug du Mas, a Seattle-based freelance production manager and 25-year veteran of the state film industry, had even stronger words. If the office is eliminated, "it would be absolutely devastating for the film industry in Washington state," he said. "They (the film office) are critical to promoting the state outside of the state, and once a company has decided to film here, they're absolutely necessary in order to tie all the different elements together. Without that resource, the industry is blind."

Du Mas noted that if the film office is closed, Washington would become the only state in the country without one. "It boggles the mind that in these times, the state would want to cut one of the few departments that actually generates income," du Mas said. "It may not be a core industry to them, but it provides money to fund their core programs. It's ludicrous." Locke's proposed budget cuts will be debated by the Legislature when it returns to session next month. If passed, most changes would go into effect July 1.

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