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Hopes for major film studio in Billings area dim as House bill stalls

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Posted at 7:22 PM, Mar 31, 2023

BILLINGS - Marshall Silverman says he has worked on some big productions in the past, including Wonder Woman and several Batman movies.

He also has big dreams for the future. The co-CEO of Worldwide Entertainment wants to bring a major film studio to the Billings area.

“I’ve been waiting for four years to get this project started and break ground,” Silverman said in a recent interview.

The studio would be built on 250 acres in Yellowstone County at a cost of $300 million. Silverman says he already has investors in place, ready to go.

“The studio would be a place with lots of activity. Lots of people are going to be working there. Literally a couple of thousand would be regularly employed in the studio to run the facility. And then on any given day when we have the productions coming in—the TV and movie companies—could be as much as one or two thousand more people working in the studio,” says Silverman.

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That obviously could have a huge economic impact on the area. But standing in the way is a cap on tax credits in the state’s Media Act of $12 million. That’s a cap on the total tax credits available for all film productions in Montana combined.

Silverman says in order for the studio to be built, the cap needs to be lifted entirely.

“Why that is so important is that producers have to have an incentive when they bring a project into the state. They are looking all over the United States at places that provide that incentive,” says Timothy Lofing, CEO of Montana Outlaw Productions.

This week, Lofing and Silverman both testified in Helena in favor of HB844, a bill carried by Billings Republican Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe.

It’s one of several bills under consideration in the Legislature that would make changes to the cap to try and lure more film productions to Montana.

“This bill is about high-paying careers, it’s about education and it is also about a massive revenue increase,” Seekins-Crowe said during a hearing on the bill this week before the House Taxation Committee.

Lofing says that film production companies would have to spend money first to get any tax credit and the way it stands now just one major production could use up the entire cap.

“The maximum (on a film) of $100 million would be 35% of that investment. So that would be $35 million. Well, we have a $12 million cap, so we couldn’t even bring in one major motion picture as the cap stands now," Lofing said.

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Both Lofing and Silverman say that makes it impossible to compete with Georgia and several other states that have been busy trying to lure in the entertainment industry.

Georgia has no cap on its tax credit and has become the number one film production state in the nation, surpassing California, and bringing in billions in direct spending to the state.

It’s something other states have noticed as competition has grown to attract studios and film production. And right now, Lofing says Montana’s $12 million cap makes it impossible to compete.

“If this bill could pass, it would provide amazing opportunities. It would open the doors for infrastructure. It’s going to allow us to build studios that can be competitive and then provide on-the-job training for Montanans that want to work in those studios,” Lofing says.

The prospects, however, of any action being taken this session on the bill that would do away with that cap dimmed this week when HB844 was tabled.

Silverman says he can’t build the studio without it being lifted entirely.

“I have to be able to tell my investors, I’m going to fill the studio with business and I can only do that if I know it’s going to be an unlimited amount of work that we can bring in,” he says.

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