The top five film incentive packages in the U.S.

For the past six years, Louisiana and New Mexico have reigned atop the ever-expanding list of states that have opened their coffers to the movie business. But they’re certainly not the only draws out there. Producers and studios have more choices than ever before, and the trend shows absolutely no sign of slowing down.

Over the past year, we’ve seen how a single new piece of legislation can change the entire U.S. landscape in an instant, whether it’s coming from states with established production services (New York) or a new upstart whose financial package is simply too good to resist (Michigan).

Picking the best incentive packages in the U.S. is far from an exact science, but we’ve given it a shot. Herewith, we present our top five. (Of course, things could always change next week.)

LOUISIANA

The granddaddy of the incentive boom continues to impress and endure. When Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath made shooting difficult in New Orleans, production houses and crew members set up shop in other cities such as Shreveport and Baton Rouge without missing a beat. And 2008 is shaping up to be a record year — 28 productions have come through the state through April, a pace that should easily eclipse 2007′s record of 53 productions for the entire year. The reason: Along with its 25% transferable credit for all in-state expenditures and an additional 10% on labor for state residents, Louisiana continues to develop its production resources, which now include the Cinelease soundstages in Shreveport and the Celtic Media Center in Baton Rouge. Upcoming and recent pics include David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” with Brad Pitt, and Oliver Stone’s “W.” Louisiana continues to be a favorite location for both the Weinstein Co. bring in regular business.

NEW MEXICO

Like Louisiana, New Mexico boasts one of the most established, effective incentive programs in the U.S. Rather than offer tax credits, the state provides a flat-out cash rebate covering 25% of all in-state expenses. In addition, it offers 0% loans (in exchange for backend participation) of up to $15 million on shows spending at least $2 million within the state. In previous years, the one knock on New Mexico was that it had scant facilities and hardly any qualified local crew. That situation is being remedied. Last June, Albuquerque Studios, a $75 million soundstage and production hub, opened its doors. Recent and upcoming productions to take advantage of the new facility include Taylor Hackford’s “Love Ranch,” Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers” and McG’s “Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins,” currently in prep.

CONNECTICUT

In only two years, Connecticut has gone from nonentity to major player in the incentive game, and has offered further proof that film-related legislation has the ability to give local economies an immediate boost. Thanks to its generous 30% tax credit and its close proximity to the resources and crew of neighboring New York, Connecticut has managed to lure a slew of high-profile productions recently. Seven features are shooting there, including Andrew Jarecki’s “All Good Things” with Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, P.J. Hogan’s “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and Sam Mendes’ “Farlanders.”

NEW YORK

Until a few weeks ago, New York had one of the weaker incentive programs in the nation. That still didn’t stop more than 250 features from shooting in the state last year. Those stats are about to be shattered. In April, Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature teamed up to pass a bill that tripled the state tax credit on production expenses to 30%, with an additional 5% thrown in for shows shot within New York City. For productions big and small, the cringe-inducing costs of shooting in Gotham have suddenly become easier to manage.

MICHIGAN

The new kid on the block, Michigan rounds out the list purely based on its unmatched investment, which was announced last month. It includes a phenomenal 40%-42% cash or tax-credit rebate (whichever the producers/financiers prefer) on all in-state expenditures, plus a 30% reimbursement for nonresident below-the-line crew members. Simply put, this is the best package ever to be introduced in the United States. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be significant hurdles to overcome, the most glaring of which is Michigan’s utter lack of any significant production resources or local crew. Expect that situation to change, and fast. Just look at Louisiana and New Mexico.

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