Tax credits, rebates come into play

Attracting film production is an ongoing competition.

Incentives, a rarity in years past, have now become the rule rather than the exception, and each state strives to implement better tax credits, rebates and hand-holding without any guarantee of film production revenues filling their coffers.

Mississippi has an impressive film history, with features such as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “A Time to Kill” and, most recently, “Walk the Line” and “Black Snake Moan.” Yet according to Ward Emling, director of Mississippi’s Film Office, the state’s direct spend revenue for last year was only $1 million. “Walk the Line” lensed in 2004, and “Black Snake Moan” shot last year. Both productions were based in Memphis, however, and thus Mississippi missed out on the ancillary spend feature productions promise the local economy.

Memphis, with its own filmography including “Cast Away” and “21 Grams,” reaped a direct spend of $6.1 million for fiscal year 2004-05, a time that saw the production of “Walk the Line” (47-day shoot), “Hustle & Flow” (26-day shoot) and “Elizabethtown” (one-day shoot). Production for “My Blueberry Nights,” this year’s Cannes Film Festival opener, lensed for seven days this year in Memphis.

Even a 10-day shoot can prove lucrative if it’s a mega-shoot for “Spider-Man 3.” Cleveland’s landmark architecture is featured in one fast-paced scene of the actioner that netted the city more than $5 million, including payroll, 2,800 hotel bed nights, car and equipment rentals, construction materials and other purchases. More than 1,000 extras were used over the course of the shoot that also employed 55 locals.

“We needed a long enough street that we could totally control that also offered a look of New York architecture,” said John Fedynich, the New York location manager who scouted Chicago and Detroit in addition to Cleveland.

Chris Carmody, head of the Cleveland Film Commission, banded together with city, county and transit officials, merchants and landlords to organize the complete closure of 20 blocks along Euclid Avenue for 10 days, with no location fees charged to the production or paid to shops along the artery.

Spidey’s crew also took advantage of Mayor Frank Jackson’s offer of more than 375,000 square feet in free production space in Cleveland’s convention center. The facility, consisting of 22 turn-key offices, storage for trucks and equipment and a kitchen capable of serving 6,000 daily meals, is located near hotels and lakefront, as well as Cleveland Hopkins Intl. Airport.

Incentives remain a key bargaining chip, and while Cleveland is nearing closure on its Ohio Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit, Tennessee recently passed new incentive measures (Daily Variety, April 3) and Mississippi sought to improve upon its own.

“Mississippi has a long history of cooperation and support for the film industry,” said Gov. Haley Barbour. “This legislation will help us remain competitive in the attraction of movie production to our state, while also creating opportunities for Mississippi filmmakers.”

Under Mississippi’s newly passed incentives, rebate incentives offered to filmmakers will increase to about 20%-30%, depending on the production’s local spend. The bill also creates an additional 10% rebate on out-of-state worker wages. Although no minimum spend is required, the legislation limits the availability of state funds to $5 million for each individual project. A TV series may reapply after reaching the cap figure.

“In addition to increasing the percentages of the rebate, we have streamlined the process,” said Emling. “It’s a very simple and straightforward transaction, and it’s a pure rebate program: The state of Mississippi returns the rebate directly to the production at the conclusion of their production work in Mississippi.”

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