- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A $5 million annual film rebate program that was used to help lure the production of last year’s “August: Osage County” to Oklahoma will continue for 10 more years under a bill that passed the Senate on Thursday and is heading to the governor’s desk.

The Senate voted 31-11 for the Compete with Canada Film Act over the objections of some Republicans who complained the big budget dark comedy about a dysfunctional Oklahoma family dealing with alcoholism and drug abuse depicted a poor image of the state.

“I want my money back, and I got in free,” said Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove. “I think it’s a bad picture of who we are and what we want to represent, and as a result of that I’ve lost confidence in the movie industry.

“Of course, I didn’t have much to start with.”

Under the program, the state provides rebates to filmmakers of $1 for every $3 they spend on movie productions in Oklahoma, up to a total of $5 million annually. The $5 million cap has been reached in each of the past three years.

“August: Osage County,” an adaptation of an award-winning play by Oklahoma native Tracy Letts and starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, among others, qualified for $4.6 million from the program in the fiscal year that ended in June, according to the Oklahoma Film and Music Office. To be eligible for the rebate, producers spent more than $12.5 million on qualifying expenditures in Oklahoma, such as salaries to local workers, scouting and set construction costs.

Supporters say 46 other states offers similar rebates and that Oklahoma needs to continue the program to compete and attract lucrative film productions.

“If you don’t like the movies Hollywood makes, then encourage more Oklahoma filmmakers to make Oklahoma films with Oklahoma values,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, told his colleagues. “It’s a bill designed to try and encourage the industry of film and music to be able to flourish in Oklahoma, as they are in neighboring states like New Mexico and many others.”

Extending the rebate through 2024 will ensure the stability of the program and give the state a better chance of luring a television series, said Deby Snodgrass, executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.

The bill now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin, whose office declined to comment Thursday on whether she would sign it. Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said the legislation is still under staff review.

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House Bill 2580: http://bit.ly/1j9DYVu

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Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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