The pay-your-dues argument might be easier to swallow if state loan recipients had produced better films.
Artistically, they haven’t all been duds. In The Valley of Elah, for instance, got nominated for an Oscar.
But commercially—which is how state film officials judge their efforts—loan recipients have underperformed. Some have been downright disasters.
For instance, in 2005, the SIC approved a $15 million loan for Bordertown, starring Jennifer Lopez and directed by New Mexican Gregory Nava. The producers defaulted after a dispute with Nava, causing the interest rate to rise from 0 to 9.32 percent.
According to meeting minutes, Dekom told the SIC the state “might make more money on interest than it would have made had it depended on the release of the motion picture.” (Bordertown reportedly drew unintentional laughter at a Berlin film festival and went straight to DVD in the US last year.)
Which calls into question the assumptions underpinning the loan program. If every film—even one starring J-Lo!—represents a risk, why not take a chance on local talent?
“I really do believe [in] the tax incentive—without it, we’d be out of the game, period. But I don’t think we still need the loan incentive. It no longer serves its purpose,” Koch says. “It might have originally helped jump-start us but, at this point, we’re on the map.”
Even the film union’s Hendry, who designed the loan program with Dekom, believes its future is limited.
“The loan program will eventually die out on its own,” Hendry says. “The more people I have trained, the less we have to lend to get people to come here. Eventually, we won’t need to do this because the movies are coming here.”
Eventually could come sooner rather than later.
The SIC only has $21.5 million in remaining loan capacity—enough for a handful of films, at most.
And conveniently for Richardson, who boosted the program—and for Lionsgate, its chief beneficiary—most of the outstanding loans won’t come due until after the next election. If the producers go bust, that’ll be some other governor’s problem.
With the current dismal state of the movie business, going bust is a possibility.
Last week, Lionsgate reported losses of $163 million for the year so far—performing even worse than Wall Street analysts had expected, according to Reuters.
“We’re living in a managed depression, in my world,” Dekom says. “A lot of studios can’t even access credit. The number of people who are over 30 going to movies has dropped by 36 percent—that’s not been good for the independent market at all.”
Still, eventually the economy will recover, Dekom says, as will the movie business. And people will keep asking for his help whether or not they stand a snowball’s chance.
“Everybody thinks they’re a filmmaker,” he says. SFR