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How a new law could bring the movie business back to Washington

Film industry leaders in Washington are excited about the possibility of big productions returning to the state with new tax incentives going into effect.

SEATTLE — Seattle's film industry and creative types have had a lot of sleepless nights since the ubiquitous film debuted nearly 30 years ago.

"Sleepless in Seattle" is just one motion picture that was filmed nearly entirely on location in western Washington, alongside such periodic hits as "Singles," "Hand That Rocks the Cradle," "The Fabulous Baker Boys," and "10 Things I Hate About You."

But the state's film credits couldn't keep up with the competition, and Vancouver, BC blossomed into a regular stand-in for Washington cities, whether it be in "The Killing," or "Fifty Shades of Grey."  In fact, the classic tale of the UW Rowing team, "The Boys in the Boat," is being filmed in London right now.

But the future could be different, based on a bill recently signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee.

"I think that we have a real opportunity in front of us," said Amy Lillard of Washington Filmworks, who has been pushing lawmakers for years to boost the incentives and tax credits for studios and production companies.  

Last week, Inslee signed the legislation for the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program, which boosts the incentives to $15 million a year. It previously sat at $3.5 million annually. 

The bill puts Washington in a more competitive position to lure productions, with Oregon lawmakers providing $20 million a year, and Montana $12 million, according to Lillard.

"Fifty percent of any budget goes to paying for people, and the other fifty percent goes to paying for, and working with local businesses," she said, noting an active production can boost foodservice or honey bucket providers. 

"When people are calling Oregon to film there, they're also calling Washington because we have similar locations, similar infrastructure and things like that. I think that we'll start winning the war more often and see more of those projects that may be set in Washington, filmed in Washington."

Lillard also pointed to the investment made recently by King County to convert an old flour mill to create the "Harbor Island Studios".

"The new incentive bill is a game-changer for our industry," said Kate Becker, who leads King County's Creative Economy office, and who led KING 5 through a tour of the studios. 

"We're getting more competitive," she said, as she proudly walked through the 117,000 square foot facility on the Seattle Waterfront, complete with two sound stages, and a third potential soundproof stage. "Could we get back to the heydeys of the 90s? Let's hope."

Recently, production concluded on the site of the Amy Poehler-produced "Three Busy Debras," which is slated to debut on HBO this month, Becker said.  Another reality show begins filming in the studios next week.

Lillard said she's already hearing from companies since the bill was signed that long ruled out Washington previously. She'd been fighting for a decade to increase the incentives and believes it has already changed perspectives.

"This legislation," she said, "is transformative for the film industry.


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