Tennessee to offer economic incentives for film and video game scoring work

Tennessee to offer economic incentives for film and video game scoring work

Film and video game scoring projects produced in Tennessee will soon be eligible financial incentives thanks to a new state law that music industry stakeholders have pursued for several years.

Details of the incentives will be ironed out in the coming weeks after listening sessions with stakeholders in the music industry, the state's top entertainment economic development official said.

The incentives come as Nashville has increasingly recruited major scoring projects, using its stable of talented professional musicians and world-class recording studios as its chief selling points. "O, Brother Where Art Thou," "The Shack" and the television show "Nashville" are among the projects that were scored in Music City.

The city has especially found success attracting video game scoring projects, which often use full orchestras and classical music. In 2014, Electronic Arts, one of the world's top video gaming companies, moved the bulk of its scoring work to Nashville.

"I think by dedicating incentives it shows that we as a state are serious about this area of the industry, especially in the face of increasing competition from neighboring states," said Pat McMaking, director of operations at Belmont University's Ocean Way Studio.

With Ocean Way's large recording room able to accommodate an orchestra, the Music Row studio has landed an array of major scoring projects. Its partnership with EA has been especially fruitful, leading to Nashville musicians routinely being hired for the studio sessions.

Bob Raines, executive director of the Tennessee Entertainment Commission, said that by introducing the incentive, the state hopes to "pour fuel on the fire" for scoring work that has already been arriving in Nashville.

Raines said London and Los Angeles are frequently the state's top competition for major recording projects. In addition to the incentive, Raines said he anticipates an increased effort to market Tennessee's strengths.

"The main reason why we're doing that is Tennessee has a unique competitive advantage in music," Raines said. "Our goal is to utilize the talent we have here, utilize the vendors we have here and the infrastructure we have here to become a first-look for film, television and video game scoring for the state."

Raines said his department will soon host listening sessions to solicit feedback from the music industry for what the incentive looks like. The law, which was pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam's administration, takes effect July 1. Haslam’s recommended budget for this year included $5.2 million for the film and television fund, of which $3.1 million was a nonrecurring appropriation. The state has not determined the total cost of the incentive program. 

There has been some debate within the industry for how much a project should cost to qualify for the incentive. Hypothetically, the program could allow scoring projects costing at least $50,000 to recoup up to 25 percent of their expenses. If a project doesn't reach the $50,000 plateau, the state could allow a company with multiple projects totaling more than that in a fiscal year to qualify for the incentives. Those are the details Raines said will be sorted out by hosting the listening sessions, the details of which are still being worked out.

In addition to the scoring work, the new law creates a grant for digital media projects that are produced in Tennessee, including animation and virtual reality.

Raines said the details of that grant program are also being ironed out.

In a press release, the Entertainment Software Association, which advocates for video game companies, applauded the state for broadening its incentive program.

“Adding video games to Tennessee’s tax incentive program positions Tennessee, as a world-renowned center for music, to become an even greater hub of artistry and storytelling and attract and retain high-paying, creative jobs,” said Erik Huey, senior vice president of government affairs for the ESA. “The U.S. video game industry generated a record $36 billion in revenue in 2017 and employs more than 220,000 people nationwide.

"We commend Gov. Bill Haslam for signing the Tennessee Visual Content Modernization Act and Rep. David Hawk and Sen. Mark Norris for sponsoring the legislation. Their leadership, and that of the staff at the Tennessee Entertainment Commission, will usher in a new period of economic and artistic growth for the Volunteer State.”

Hawk, R-Greeneville, who shepherded the legislation this session, said the state is investing in a sector that has already shown growth.

"Tennessee and specifically Nashville — although here in East Tennessee we have a great heritage of music — the music industry is such a big part of what we do. This goes hand-in-glove with what our skill set is already," Hawk said.

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