Editorials

Hey, Pierce County, you want to be a movie star? A little investment could help

Pierce County’s proposed total budget for 2020-21, presented by County Executive Bruce Dammeier this week, is a whopping $2.3 billion. That sounds like a lot until you consider everything those dollars must fund. Public safety, behavioral health, roads, transportation, parks and the environment are all competing for limited resources.

But increasing sales tax and property tax revenues have put county government in a strong position as it makes the switch from a one-year to a two-year budget.

Since he took office in 2017, two of Dammeier’s three main themes are “vibrant communities” and an “entrepreneurial climate.” Recently this got us wondering: Pierce County, are you ready for your close-up?

Though it’s not in the budget blueprint, county leaders might want to take a cue from King County Executive Dow Constantine, who last week launched his Creative Economy Initiative and signed an executive order prioritizing film production.

Under Constantine’s plan, King County taxpayers will spend $306,000 to explore a film industry coming to a neighborhood near them. The money will subsidize film-production grants and pay an industry consultant to coordinate film-friendly policies. Constantine also directed staff to focus on short-term real estate availability for film production.

He stood in Twede’s Café, the North Bend diner made famous by the 1990’s television show “Twin Peaks,” and told reporters: “For far too long, we’ve watched other locations steal film productions that rightfully belong in King County.”

Correction: They rightfully belong in Washington, and the wealth should be shared. That giant sucking sound, as Ross Perot once said, is jobs being lost across the border. Our state is losing out on millions from the film industry (and related tourism dollars) because Vancouver, Canada, made the smart move to incentivize opportunities.

Yes, Washington also has a film production tax incentive, but it’s capped at $3.5 million a year for 10 years — one of the lowest in the country and a fraction of neighboring Oregon.

There’s no rule that says Constantine’s idea can’t be poached. After all, when it comes to film locations, what does King County have that Pierce doesn’t?

We’ve even written some suggested talking points when luring Hollywood types to the South Sound:

The Tacoma area is a heck of a lot cheaper than Seattle and we’re bursting at the seams with talented artists. (See graduates of Tacoma Public Schools’ School of the Arts.)

Name a film genre, and Pierce County has the perfect setting. The 1999 hit “Ten Things I Hate About You,” is proof the area can be a scene stealer in a rom-com.

Looking for horror movie locations? The 1992 horror hit “Hand that Rocks the Cradle” was filmed in Tacoma’s North End, and Lakewood’s Thornewood Castle was the backdrop for Stephen King’s 2002 made-for-TV movie “Rose Red.”

And memo to all independent filmmakers: The 253 has the quirky vibe nailed. At least the recent truTV comedy series “Tacoma FD” thought so, although its creators don’t actually spend production dollars here, so we hesitate to mention them.

We’re not joking. If a creative entrepreneurial climate is the goal, then film and television production is a good place to invest a little money in the next two years.

Once upon a time, in the 1920s, Pierce County was briefly home to one of America’s largest film studios,”Hollywood By The Sea,” in Tacoma’s Titlow Beach area, is long gone, but there’s a similarity between that era and today.

Back then, silent films were being churned out for neighborhood theaters at a frenetic pace; today, Netflix and other home streaming services are spending millions to meet a bottomless consumer appetite for content.

We’ve already made it to the silver screen with rave reviews. Dangle a few incentives and watch Pierce County really shine.

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