Incentives, resources decide filming locations

From jetting to the outer limits of Canada’s cold wilderness to building sets with local talent in steamy Louisiana, film producers have two things in mind when scouting locations: Costs, and what can make my life easier.

For Rob Merilees, producer of “Just Friends” and “Sleepwalking” for Foundation Features, filming in Canada’s Saskatchewan province brought both peace of mind and rewards.

“The tax credits are huge,” says Merilees, referring to both types available: for Canadian content and production services.

Plus, he found appropriate locations. ” ‘Just Friends’ needed to look like New Jersey in the winter,” he says. “There is really nice light there, with farmland or prairie. It’s cold and clear.” The city of Regina, where he also filmed, boasts multiple soundstages, experienced crews, equipment houses, trucks and lots of grip and lighting equipment.

But there are also incentives to get out of town. “If you shoot 50% or more out of the city center of Regina, you get back 5% of the spend,” Merilees says.

Also helpful, he adds, is “the Saskatchewan Film Commission, if you run into problems with union or locations issues. They are very proactive, very hungry to get movies in there.”

Much farther south, in the state of Louisiana, Kati Johnston is a line producer working on the Disney series “Imagination Movers.” She says she prefers the down-home atmosphere of Louisiana after working in New York City for many years.

For Disney, which had already done several movies in Louisiana, the state’s tax incentives were presumably a major motivator. These incentives include a 25% tax credit for all purchases; a 35% tax credit if local people are employed; and, if shopping in Jefferson Parish, the production would receive an additional 3%.

“Equipment rentals met expectations, but the permitting process is complicated,” says Johnston. “You have to hire a local person to take you through it. It’s a film-friendly place.”

Another state making a big play for Hollywood productions is Michigan, and, within Michigan, the city of Detroit. Tim Crockett, writer, director and producer of “Intent” for New Castle Entertainment, marvels at how things can get done with a simple handshake in the Wolverine State.

“People do just what they said they’d do, or more, which hasn’t happened in other places,” he says.

The production came to film in Livonia, just 20 minutes west of Detroit, when two things happened within 30 days of each other: the state of Florida (the original filming location) cut its tax rebate allocation from $25 million to $5 million, while Michigan increased its incentives.

“We had a great experience,” says Crockett, marveling at how far Michigan has gone to clean up its act. The cold weather was another matter, but the locals helped with that. “People plugged our trailers in their houses to help keep everything warm,” Crockett says. “Film Detroit was great, too. They helped us meet everyone. We had all local crew except for a few people.”

The prices were low, too. Rentals cost about half as much as in many other states, and the local vegetation was a big plus. (Florida’s numerous palm trees had initially caused a problem, as the film is set in Ohio.) And Spirit Airlines offers low-cost, nonstop flight from L.A. to Detroit.

Although Crockett says he would not film in Michigan during December again, he is coming back for three more projects, in addition to acquiring two permanent facilities to film in Livonia and Southfield for the next three years.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more