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Emmett/Furla Films Plays the Tax Break Game

Production and finance company shoots in states and countries with favorable incentives

By choosing to shoot “Lone Survivor” in New Mexico, Emmett/Furla not only got an excellent stand-in for the pic’s Afghanistan setting less than two hours by air from Hollywood, it was also able to cash in on the state’s 25%-30% refundable tax credit.

“It’s a big chunk of money,” says producer Randall Emmett, and “with the economy we’ve had for the last five years, without an incentive, most investors don’t want to invest.”

The shingle is a seasoned veteran of the film tax credit world. When the domestic incentive race kicked off a decade ago, the company was among the first to cash in, shooting “Blind Horizon” in New Mexico and “A Love Song for Bobby Long” in Louisiana. It has braved inclement weather and lack of production infrastructure to take advantage of Alaska’s little-used transferable tax credit, which returns as much as 58% on in-state expenditures, for its recent release “The Frozen Ground” (pictured), starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack. And it’s demonstrated agility on pics like “Broken City,” with Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, stitching together various incentive-rich locales (New York, Louisiana and Massachusetts) for the right balance of looks and savings.

But relying on incentives carries a degree of risk, as Emmett found out in 2011 when Michigan’s new governor, Rick Snyder, put the brakes on the state’s 42% tax credit just as the shingle was beginning preproduction on “Freelancers,” starring 50 Cent and Robert De Niro.

Disaster was averted by relocating the film to New Orleans, but Emmett learned a valuable lesson about monitoring incentives, which can sometimes be unstable, throwing a production budget off kilter.

“You almost become a politician,” Emmett says. “You talk to the state and the officials and ask where the legislature is leaning. Are people in support of the film incentives, are they against them? Nothing’s guaranteed, but you try to at least figure it out.”

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