In 2010, actor Ted Danson, filming The Big Miracle in Alaska, set off a local ruckus when he urged federal regulators to block oil drilling off the state’s shores. The source of the controversy wasn’t so much that a Hollywood star was pontificating about a public issue; it was that the picture was receiving nearly $10 million in state tax incentives—equal to one-third the cost of filming it—and many Alaskans found Danson’s ingratitude shocking. Soon after, Alaska lawmakers took a hard look at the state’s rich subsidies for film and TV productions. Legislators first narrowed the program, and then, in 2015, as evidence mounted that the incentives didn’t pay off economically, they killed it.
Alaska is hardly alone in getting mixed up in the TV and movie biz. Starting in the early 2000s, states rushed to grab a piece of what they saw as a glamorous, lucrative industry. By 2010, all but six states were offering producers special deals. But Hollywood has turned into its own worst enemy in perpetuating these plush arrangements. Producers have proved notoriously disloyal, shifting locations constantly as they play state programs off against one another, looking for the sweetest breaks. And Hollywood’s most prominent players have become politically hyper-partisan—more than ever, in the new Trump era—pushing for major tax hikes and other left-wing policies, even as the industry shakes down states for taxpayer money. A backlash has ensued, with seven states terminating the deals and a handful of others reining them in.
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