Hi! I would like to take a second to introduce myself. I am Lillie Peterson, Managing Director of the Arkansas Cinema Society. I am a lifelong resident of Arkansas and have spent the better part of my professional career doing what I can to make Arkansas the best place it can be. As part of my role with ACS, I have undertaken extensive research into the business of film and the positive effects the industry can have on a community. We are starting this new column to share some of the ways film can make Arkansas a better place to live and work (even if you don’t work in film!) and to talk about what ACS is doing to help and what you can do to help.
In this first column, I’m going to talk about why a robust film tax incentive is important to both our economy and improving the quality of life for all Arkansans.
Arkansas is a beautiful state filled with a unique and vibrant culture all its own. For too long, it has been considered a flyover state, forgotten, dismissed. We've produced a president, NBA stars and Olympic gold medalists (Scottie Pippen, Bill Carr), world-renowned musicians (Johnny Cash, Justin Moore), poets (Maya Angelou, Miller Williams), and actors (Mary Steenburgen, Billy Bob Thornton, Wes Bentley). We are home to the most famous brand and largest company in the country, Walmart. We have birthed innovators and influential people; we have a beautiful and varied landscape, ripe for exploration and recreation; and we brought cheese dip to the rest of the world, arguably our most valuable historical and cultural contribution. It is long overdue for Arkansas to step into the spotlight and stake our claim on the cultural landscape of the South and the country at large.
Arkansas has the fifth highest poverty rate in the country and the second lowest median household income, more than $43,000 lower than the national median household income. Direct film industry jobs have average salaries that are 53% higher than the national average and employ more people than mining, oil and natural gas extraction, crop production, utility system construction, and rental and leasing services combined. In 2020, Georgia's film industry produced 26 films and 81 TV series, generating over 45,000 jobs for residents; compared to just 3,330 jobs in Arkansas in 2019-2020 from 5 films and 4 TV series. In 2018, Arkansas hosted the production of True Detective, Season 3 in Northwest Arkansas which had a $100 million economic impact on the region.
Film is a proven untapped job creator in our state with the potential to improve quality of life in the state and lift up our statewide economy through increased spending by film and associated industries. Film jobs also do not require advanced training or even a college degree. With minimal job training or retraining, unemployed and under-employed Arkansans can begin lucrative work in the film industry in a matter of weeks. After the passage of an improved film incentive in 2021, the state saw a marked increase in productions. Should this bill with further improvements pass, Arkansas will take its place with nearby and comparable states with a truly competitive film incentive. Based on the increased production we are already seeing, the industry is poised to take off and provide increased opportunities for all Arkansans. A rising tide lifts all boats.
I have lived and worked in Arkansas my whole life. When given numerous opportunities to move to another state for work, I chose to stay in Arkansas because I believe in this state. I believe in its people and their ability to live into their full potential. I love it here and want to see it become all it can be: a bright star, welcoming all with our trademark Southern Hospitality.
At ACS, we believe that if we provide filmmakers an arena to exhibit their talents, and film enthusiasts a healthy diet of quality programming, we can inspire more Arkansans to make and watch more films. By supporting filmmakers, festivals, theaters and young people interested in filmmaking throughout the state, we hope to create statewide network, pool Arkansas’s resources and be an umbrella organization that feeds all things film. We believe a rising tide lifts all boats.
To be a filmmaker, we have to connect to create. A painter needs a brush, paint and a canvas. A director needs a writer, a cinematographer, a sound mixer, production designer, editor, actors, distributors, and an audience. We cannot do it alone. This art form forces one to collaborate and thus, creates jobs. Filmmaking is unique in the arts in this way. It takes an army.