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Ready for its close-up, Washington sees moviemaking rebound


Ready for its close-up, Washington sees moviemaking rebound

May 23, 2023 | 10:15 pm ET
By Jerry Cornfield
Ready for its close-up, Washington sees moviemaking rebound
A still image from the HBO Max's "The Sex Lives of College Girls," featuring the University of Washington campus. (Photograph by Courtesy of HBO Max)

With the pandemic ending and state aid in hand, Washington is enjoying a resurgence of interest from makers of movies and television shows.

Spokane, Whidbey Island, Seattle and Lynnwood are among communities that provided backdrops for productions that employed nearly 1,700 people and generated $11.5 million in local spending between July 2020 and June 30, 2022.

Some productions received a boost from Washington’s Motion Picture Competitiveness Program which doled out $3.78 million in credits on certain in-state expenditures, according to a recent report from the state Department of Commerce.

That analysis shows nearly all the economic activity occurred in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2022 reflecting COVID-19’s dent on the industry.

The deadly virus arrived in 2020, putting the kibosh on new movies and shows that year and through a chunk of 2021.

“Through the pandemic we saw production nearly halt,” said Shannon Halberstadt, creative economy sector lead for the state commerce department. “It’s wonderful to see it coming back to life.”

Series like “Love is Blind” and “The Sex Lives of College Girls”, and the feature film, “Midday Black Midnight Blue,” were among cinematic creations touching down in the Evergreen State.

Washington Filmworks is the private non-profit organization that manages the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program for the state. It’s also the front door for those looking for a site to shoot and workers to hire.

One of its roles is to provide producers of motion pictures, episodic series and commercials a credit on as much as 30% of their in-state expenditures.

To qualify, a production company must spend a minimum amount in the state: $500,000 for a movie, $300,000 per episode of a series and $150,000 per commercial.

Productions that received the credit supported 1,680 jobs, of which 1,070 paid at least $30 an hour. Those productions collectively spent $11.5 million.

It’s the largest economic ripple generated by the industry since the 2016 fiscal year when the industry created 2,696 jobs for Washington residents and spent $12.5 million. 

According to the report, there were four major projects funded with state aid. They were:

  • Three Busy Debras, Season 2 (Seattle, Kirkland and Lynnwood)
  • Going Home, Season 1 (Spokane)
  • Boon, a feature film (Spokane)
  • Midday Black Midnight Blue, a feature film (Renton, Seattle, Whidbey, Camano Island)

At the time of the report, the state could provide no more than $3.5 million a year in credits.

The Legislature, in 2022, raised the cap to $15 million. It also allows giving of extra credits for filming in a rural community or telling the story of a marginalized community.