We Can Keep the Visual Effects Industry Here in the U.S.

We Can Keep the Visual Effects Industry Here in the U.S.
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As the 86th Academy Awards celebrated excellence in the film industry a few weeks ago, hundreds of visual effects professionals converged on Hollywood to protest the increasing practice of outsourcing work to other countries in order to take advantage of tax incentives in those countries. Hundreds of artists and animators were joined Sunday by film and production staff at the peaceful protest, which was organized by the Association of Digital Artists, Professionals and Technicians. These foreign tax subsidies are causing jobs to be lost in this highly skilled, artistic field.

Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the college I am president of -- Daemen College in Amherst, N.Y. -- have taken bold measures to rectify this problem. First, Cuomo signed legislation that authorizes substantial tax incentives for this industry. Specifically, qualifying film productions are eligible for a 30 percent tax credit on post-production expenses across New York State, and an additional 5 percent credit for areas outside the metropolitan New York City area. Additionally, starting in 2015 there will also be a 10 percent rebate on qualified labor expenses in both production and post production.

These tax credit programs are designed to increase the film production and post-production industry presence in the state and to have an overall positive impact on the state's economy.

The Cuomo administration also invested $4.5 million in a cutting-edge partnership between Daemen College and a visual-effects start-up company, Empire Visual Effects, to train a whole new workforce of visual effects specialists. Together, these measures are intended to make it just as cost effective for filmmakers to produce their films here in Buffalo as it is to outsource work to India or New Zealand.

Here's how it works. The college has signed formal agreements with several community colleges in the region agreeing to enroll those of their students who graduate with a two-year digital media degree into our certificate program in visual effects. Once enrolled, these students have the unique opportunity to work side-by-side with professionals in our partner company on actual projects for the film and advertising industries. A Daemen student intern, for example, just helped resurrect Charlie the Tuna for StarKist.

After completing their program at Daemen, these students are then eligible to be hired full time by Empire Visual Effects or the other companies we hope will relocate to Buffalo in order to take advantage of this favorable business climate. In fact, it is projected that 150 new full-time jobs will be created in the next five years, and many more after that.

The protesters in Hollywood are justly concerned about the negative impact outsourcing is having on their livelihood. However, aggressive tax incentive states, like New York, have taken steps that offer the entertainment industry production alternatives outside Hollywood but keep the work in the United States. Daemen's distinctive program is one that stands out as a prime example of efforts to combat the issue of outsourcing visual effects work overseas.

Outsourcing to other countries is an unresolved issue in the film industry, but Daemen College and New York State are actively working on reversing this trend.

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