The Washington legislature is considering Senate Bill 6027– A bill to increase funding for The Motion Picture Competitiveness Program. This is a big ask for our industry. We’re literally asking the state to double-down on its investment in building a film industry here by raising the current cap on productions a little each year until 2022.
If it passes, Washington can remain a player in the location shooting business. We’ll remain small but growing. (Compare this with the massive $330 million annual incentive California just passed.) If not, we’ll have to keep turning away tens of millions of dollars in productions that would like to spend their money on Washington casts, crews, locations, and vendors and in short time the films, TV series, and commercials that have been filming in the state will go to states with incentives to offer. If you are in the business of film in Washington, this should be an important issue to you.
Our small but mighty lobbying team has set up a day for people from the state to meet with our legislators in Olympia and show them that not only is this important to us, but it’s important to A LOT of us. “WA Film Day” is March 17th.
I’ve heard from some colleagues that they want to go but find the idea of talking to their legislators somewhat intimidating. This is natural if you haven’t done it before (and a little quaint once you have because it’s super low key). So I thought I’d share my experience of the nuts and bolts of going to WA Film Day to demystify it a bit.
First things first, you register with WF so they know to expect you and can help set up meetings. Here’s the RSVP page. If you want to attend but are nervous, don’t want to talk, etc. you can mention it in an email. I recall them accommodating people like this in the past. (Often by partnering you up with someone who’s been there before.)
So you caravan down to Olympia, find parking, and make your way to the meeting place. Usually it’s a large meeting room in the Legislative Building. I remember it being tough to find my first time there, but these days I expect you can just google walking directions on your phone. You’ll see a ton of people you probably know and for a while it feels like an industry mixer without the booze.
The Washington Filmworks staff will check you in and maybe ask to videotape your testimony about the industry and also check your comfort level about talking to the legislature session or your representatives. If you live in a district without a lot of representation they’ll be very keen to have you talk to your reps—especially if they happen to be on an important committee. These can be pretty important. Legislators will find time to meet with their constituents if they are on the grounds that day, but they’re less inclined to meet with people outside their districts.
You can sign up for meetings by checking in at your legislators’ offices. If you do it yourself, it’s just a matter of going to the legislators’ office (in the Legislative Building or one nearby) checking in with a staffer and seeing if you (a constituent) can meet with them today. There’s an index-card-sized form or just a list to sign with your address (to ensure you’re in their district). That’s about it. If they’re around they’ll give you a time and you can come back at the appointed hour.
These meetings can sound a bit intimidating but they don’t have to be. First, Washington Filmworks has set up some great talking points to discuss. They’ll also speechify some lobbying tips before turning us loose. My first time talking to legislators made me a bit nervous until I understood what was going on: these folks want to talk to their constituents. I was worried about getting tripped up on the finer points of film incentives, but frankly the conversations are almost always about Film Business 101, why film incentives are crucial and why it’s great to have this industry in our state. If you can share a personal story about how this helped you earn a living, that’s even better. So you’re fine just sticking with the talking points.
But if you’re really nervous, you can get paired up with someone who is a little more comfortable with the lobbying part but doesn’t necessarily live in the legislator’s district. That way, you get the meeting as a constituent but you can bring along a friend and co-worker who can warm up the room a little and get the conversation going. Worst case, you can let that person lay out all the points and then at the end of the meeting just look at your rep and say, “I agree with that 100% and so do all my friends and family who live in your district.”
But here’s a pretty awesome secret about lobbying for this bill—it already passed a few years ago. In fact, it passed overwhelmingly in the House and by a majority in the Senate. So the odds are pretty good that you will be going to your representative to say, “Thank you so much for passing the film incentive last time around. I want to tell you about the great effect it has had on my life and on friends since it passed. And I hope I can count on your vote this time around too.” In these meetings, you’re just going there to say “Thanks” and make them feel great about something they helped create. Legislators get a lot of flack for their decisions, so going to them to say thank you, I want to tell you about some good that came about because of your decision is likely to make that meeting the best one they have all day month.
After the legislator meetings, there may be a chance to make commentary about the bill before the legislature. I’m not certain this is on docket this month, but if it is, you can speak for a minute on any aspect of why you believe in the bill. It’s about as fun as any public speaking gig, but the short time limit is a bonus. It’s certainly not required.
After all the meetings is a debrief/happy hour at which point you’re back to the Industry Mixer (with booze) mode except that now you can talk about the meetings you just had instead of just desperately angling for gigs with other people who are doing the same. Plus, there are filmmakers there from other parts of the state who you can meet or reconnect with. That’s one of the really nice benefits.
That’s about it. It’s pretty painless and at moments even fun. You get to see a little about how the legislative sausage gets made. Most importantly you get to take some action towards expanding the film industry in our state. Since filming incentives have become an absolute necessity to any state film industry, the outcome of this legislation will have a big impact on your career opportunities as a production professional in Washington.
Our lobbying team is asking us to do shockingly little to advance our agenda. Basically, we need to show up, but show up en masse for a day. It’s a small thing, but it has been a successful strategy for us in the past. If you work in production or as an actor or if you’re a film student looking to join the industry, you owe it to your future work to take this day and show up in Olympia. I hope to see you there.