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It's not often Hollywood touches down in the Nebraska Legislature's Urban Affairs Committee hearing room.

But it stepped up to the microphone not once but twice Tuesday, when award-winning director/writer/producer Alexander Payne and actor John Beasley testified on a bill (LB863) aimed at bringing more film business to Nebraska.

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash introduced the bill that would make film, commercial and television production eligible for consideration under the local option economic development incentive program.

Fifty-nine communities have established local option economic development programs, and could consider using that money to attract film-related business.

The city of Valentine recently used the incentive to attract the production crew of the movie, "Aviation Cocktail," which filmed there in the fall. The city invested $5,000 and the production company spent $40,000 to $45,000, Coash said.

Several attempts have been made at bills that would offer economic incentives to movie producers, but even what some consider modest proposals have failed.

Payne, an Omaha native who has made three feature films in Nebraska -- "Citizen Ruth," "Election" and "About Schmidt" --  told the committee he would like to bring his next film to Nebraska, but he is being pressured to shoot in Kansas, which offers a 20 percent tax incentive.

"Frankly, I am hard pressed to offer resistance," he said.

Nebraska offers no economic incentives at this time.

"States such as Louisiana, North Carolina, New Mexico and Michigan have famously poured millions and millions of dollars into film production through their aggressive incentive plans," he said.

Films bring millions of dollars to hotels, restaurants, caterers, rental car agencies and vendors. They bring jobs to local actors, technicians and Teamsters. And they potentially bring in millions in tourism.

The questions producers always ask a state or community they are considering are whether there are economic incentives and a local crew base, Payne said. If they hear there are no incentives, that's frequently the end of the conversation.

Beasley, who has acted in a long list of movies and TV shows including "Everwood," "Harry's Law" and "CSI Miami," is involved with an independent film project that would tell the story of Marlin Briscoe, professional football's first black starting quarterback.

"Ours is a modest $12.5 million budget," he said. "We want to shoot in Omaha, because it's a unique Omaha, Neb., story. But our investors insist that we make our money go as far as it can go."

So his production company, West Omaha Films, is looking at traveling to Michigan or Louisiana.

Forty states offer film incentive programs, and some have faced scandal in recent years. The former director of the Iowa Film Office was found guilty last year of helping to falsify documents related to that state's tax-credit program, following an October 2010 state audit that found nearly $26 million in tax credits that allegedly were misused.

Iowa Economic Development Director Tom Wheeler and five others in the department lost their jobs in the scandal, which included the purchase of luxury vehicles ineligible for the tax credits and a ladder reportedly rented for $1,350. Then-Gov. Chet Culver suspended the program in 2009 and requested an investigation by the state auditor and attorney general.

The proposal in Nebraska is not a tax incentive program, but rather allows individual communities to reimburse local businesses for offering discounts on film production purchases.

Payne, who has won Academy Awards and a Golden Globe for "Sideways," and whose latest film, "The Descendants" has been nominated for five Academy Awards, said one of his next films is a road-trip comedy. He will shoot in Lincoln for the first time, and other small towns, within a year.

Nebraska has no name in Hollywood, he said.

"I shoot in Nebraska because I love Nebraska," he said. "Nobody asks Woody Allen, 'Why do you shoot in New York?' No one questions it. He's from New York. Well, I'm from Omaha and I want to shoot in Nebraska."

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Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

 

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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