h digitalfootprint web 728x90

The Elbert Files: Field of suckers


I’m one of those guys who had a hard time walking out of the theater the first time I saw “Field of Dreams.” I wasn’t prepared for the flood of emotions at the end of the film when Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, plays catch with his father.

I tell you this so you won’t think I’m heartless when I say Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan to give $6 million of tourism money to the entertainment company that wants to create a limited-access TV series based on the “Field of Dreams” movie is the dumbest idea I’ve heard this year.

The grant immediately brings to mind what happened in 2009 when then-Gov. Chet Culver tried to make Iowa into a Midwestern version of Hollywood by creating generous tax credits for anyone who wanted to make movies in Iowa.

It ended with a big scandal and Culver firing his head of economic development, when it wasn’t even the poor guy’s fault.

The legislatively approved tax credit plan was a disaster from beginning to end.  

Offering huge sums of money to anyone who wanted to make a movie in Iowa attracted boatloads of moviemakers.

The credits were poorly defined by law and exaggerated in promotional material. Filmmakers were led to believe that all they needed to do was submit vouchers for money spent in Iowa and they’d get a tax credit for half.

Things quickly got out of hand when credits helped finance high-end automobiles that wound up in moviemakers’ driveways in California and other distant, off-site locations.

My Des Moines Register colleague John Carlson wrote a wonderful column in 2009 about the unfolding scandal. He began by quoting a news release from Gov. Culver that said: “Iowans will not be taken for suckers.”

“We appreciate the spunk, Governor,” Carlson wrote, “but every honest, straw-chewing rube can tell you that horse has left the barn.”

Carlson continued: “We are, indeed, suckers – a lot of us anyway – smitten by the thought of spotting some third-tier actor at the next table in our favorite restaurant. Also high on the sucker list are the knuckleheads in state government who slobber at the very thought of nuzzling up next to somebody with a 90210 ZIP code. If it means handing a hay barn full of cash to people who make motion pictures, so be it.”

Carlson explained that Iowans “got hooked on Hollywood somewhere between” 1988 when Costner made “Field of Dreams” near Dyersville and 1994 when Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep made “Bridges of Madison County” outside Winterset.

“Sucker is a good word,” he wrote, “given that Iowans appear to be out untold millions of dollars because of a clumsy attempt to make this state the most attractive – make that cheapest – place in the nation to make movies.”

The scandal left Culver with so much egg on his face that the following year when Terry Branstad decided he wanted to return to the governor’s mansion, he had little trouble.

Now Reynolds, who was Branstad’s lieutenant governor for six years, apparently wants to try the moviemaking thing but with a new twist.

Instead of being egalitarian, like the Democrats were, and spreading the largesse by letting all moviemakers come to Iowa and apply for tax credits, she’s selected a single project – the effort to remake “Field of Dreams” as a limited-access TV series.   

And it doesn’t seem to matter that three days after Iowa’s $6 million was promised to would-be producers, the announced distribution channel – NBC’s Peacock streaming service – turned the project down.  

If I understand this correctly, Iowa essentially gave a $6 million, no-bid contract to a company that immediately lost its downstream distributor. But state officials say that’s no problem.

One thought comes to mind, and it’s not “If you build it, they will come.”

To quote my former colleague John Carlson, it’s “sucker.”

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!

brownwinick brd 030123 300x250