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Spotlight: The South

This region is thriving with hundreds of productions each year.

By Cory Sekine-Pettite

This region is thriving with hundreds of productions each year.

The South is a beautiful and remarkable place. The diversity of its land and its people make for remarkable story telling, the evidence of which can be seen throughout film and television history. Today, this region is thriving with hundreds of productions each year as states continually look for ways to attract filmmakers and TV productions. Each state is proving quite successful at its endeavors, as this article will explain. Markee reached out to the state film offices in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana and South Carolina to learn about their incentive packages and to get a sense for what it’s like to shoot in their states.


Filming SkyHook inside MudBrick Studio's, private concert venue in Mobile, Ala.  Photo: MudBrick Media
Filming SkyHook inside MudBrick Studio's, private concert venue in Mobile, Ala.
Photo: MudBrick Media

Alabama: A ‘Sweet’ home for TV and film production

Alabama’s current tax incentive package provides a 25-percent rebate of all state certified expenditures exceeding $500,000 (but no more than $10 million) and 35 percent of all payroll paid to residents of Alabama for state-certified productions. Additionally, Alabama provides a 4-percent state sales tax break ($150,000 minimum spend) and a 4-percent state lodging tax break (also $150,000 minimum spend).

Producers should note that while there is not a per project cap per se, Alabama only awards incentive on the first $10 million of qualifying production expenditures. Further, there is a state annual cap of $10 million for each year fiscal year.

Filming for SkyHook, outside MudBrick Studio, Mobile, Ala.  Photo: MudBrick Media
Filming for SkyHook, outside MudBrick Studio, Mobile, Ala.
Photo: MudBrick Media

Production in the state is going strong, most notably with the CMT television series, Sweet Home Alabama, which currently is in production on season 3. Additionally, the independent film SkyHook has been filming in the state since November.

It might still be a bit of an industry “secret,” but those in the know can attest to the beauty and diversity of Alabama, which the Alabama Film Office (alabamafilm.org) says has 13 physiographic regions, from beaches to forests to farmland to mountains. Alabama can offer filmmakers a wide variety of spectacular location possibilities, which are in relative close proximity to one another. Additionally, there are several sound stages available through local production companies. As the Alabama Film Office says, with such a variety of locations, Alabama certainly has “great stories to be told and filmed.”

Ides of March Photo: Kentucky Film Office.
Ides of March
Photo: Kentucky Film Office.

Kentucky: Natural beauty – and horses too

Though the state is widely known for its horses, Bluegrass music and bourbon, Kentucky’s topography and terrain make the state a perfect location for many productions. In fact, according to Patrick Stipes, operations manager for the Kentucky Film Office, “Film makers love our mountains in the east, rolling horse farms in the central portion of the state, and the massive bodies of water in the west,” he said. “Oh yes, we are home to the largest cave systems in the world; Hollywood loves that!” And one must not forget the state’s 1,100 commercially navigable miles of waterways – the most running water of every state except Alaska.

So what has been keeping the film office (filmoffice.ky.gov) busy lately? There are several major motion pictures set to shoot this spring – most are confidential at this point, the film office says. Additionally, Kentucky has seen a huge increase in shooting of outdoor television/reality/survival show projects. Twelve such shows used locations in Kentucky in 2011, and 16 more shows are set for this year. Recent films shot in the state include Secretariat (2010), Land of Tomorrow (2011), and Ides of March (2011), which starred and was directed by Kentucky native George Clooney.

Horse farm in central Kentucky Photo: Kentucky Film Office.
Horse farm in central Kentucky
Photo: Kentucky Film Office.

The state’s natural beauty is its major attraction for location scouts and producers, but Kentucky offers tax incentives as well. According to Stipes, Kentucky has a 20-percent refundable tax credit. Current minimum expenditures are set at $500,000 for feature films or television productions; the threshold for commercials is $200,000, while the threshold for documentary and Broadway projects is $50,000.

Louisiana: Much more than swamps and plantations

  Diane Lane in Secretariat. Photo courtesy of Louisiana Entertainment/Disney
  Diane Lane in Secretariat.
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Entertainment/Disney

Louisiana has been on fire lately – figuratively speaking, of course. Friendly tax incentives, state-of-the-art production and postproduction facilities, and steady work for crews are enticing the film and TV industry to head south.

In fact, according to the Louisiana Entertainment division of the Louisiana Economic Development office (louisianaentertainment.gov), production applications in 2010 marked Louisiana Entertainment’s highest year on record, with more than 140 productions applying. These applications totaled about $1.4 billion in total spending and $898 million in Louisiana spending. For 2011 (as of November 8), the state had received 130 film applications with a total anticipated spend of $1.6 billion, but over $1.1 billion in Louisiana spending, which puts the state on track to meet and/or exceed the numbers for 2010.

It is perhaps the state’s diverse locations and geography that make Louisiana such a desirable backdrop. If you thought all the state has to offer – aside from New Orleans – are plantation properties and swamps, think again. The cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport have all doubled as other major U.S. cities, such as New York and Los Angeles. For example, the feature film Battle Los Angeles (2011) was filmed in Baton Rouge and Shreveport, and their downtown locations doubled for an apocalyptic view of Los Angeles. In addition to its varied settings, the state offers financial incentives to productions as well.

Currently, Louisiana offers motion picture productions a 30 percent transferable credit on total in-state expenditures, with no cap and a minimum spending requirement of $300,000. For productions using in-state labor, Louisiana offers an additional 5 percent labor tax credit on the payroll of employed residents. This very appealing offer has led to hundreds of local productions in recent years, including the 2010 Disney film Secretariat (pictured), Paramount’s feature film G.I. Joe 2 Retaliation (Currently shooting in New Orleans and scheduled for a summer 2012 release.), HBO’s acclaimed TV series Treme (currently shooting season 3 in New Orleans), and Nu Image/Millennium’s feature film The Paperboy (Shot in New Orleans/Gretna for seven weeks and is currently in post-production.).

“It’s all about knowing that you’re going to get the maximum benefit for your dollar,” said Louisiana Entertainment’s Katharina Spindler. “You’re going to come to Louisiana and get an A-list crew, some of the best post-production facilities available, and be able to shoot any type of picture here. Louisiana can provide just about any service or location a production company needs. Louisiana’s success is largely thanks to the state’s ability to attract repeat business.”

Dylan Walsh and Diane Lane in Secretariat. Photo courtesy of Louisiana Entertainment/Disney
Dylan Walsh and Diane Lane in Secretariat.
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Entertainment/Disney

It’s not just temporary productions that have taken notice of Louisiana; many industry professionals have decided to make the state their home, according to Louisiana Entertainment. “The weather here is great for filming year-round and another competing factor about Louisiana is that when people come here, most of them realize they can live here and steadily work,” said Spindler. For example, Moonbot Animation Studios (www.moonbotstudios.com) is among the production companies recently settling in the state. The company is Louisiana’s first fully functioning animation studio. Among its most well known work is the animated short The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, which is winning almost every festival it enters, and has become a successful app on the iPad.

“So a lot of people wind up moving here because they can own property for far less than it costs elsewhere, and they can consistently work in the industry they love,” she continued. “Our crew base is nine to 10 crews deep, which is a nearly 400-percent increase since 2002. We have seen a 22-percent growth in the industry’s workforce each year.”

Dylan Baker, Diane Lane, Nelsan Ellis, Otto Thorwarth, and John Malkovich in Secretariat. Photo courtesy of Louisiana Entertainment/Disney
Dylan Baker, Diane Lane, Nelsan Ellis, Otto Thorwarth, and John Malkovich in Secretariat.
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Entertainment/Disney

South Carolina: Ready when you are

South Carolina has been the backdrop for more than 100 feature films, and 70-plus TV movies, series, and pilots. So it’s no surprise that the state is known as one of the country’s leading incentive states for feature films and series. Perhaps unique to South Carolina, the state’s production incentives differ from most states’ programs in that the state provides a cash rebate, paid to the production company within 30 days of final audit.

What that incentive package includes is up to a 20 percent cash rebate on wages, 30 percent cash rebate on expenditures with South Carolina vendors, up to 8 percent sales and use tax exemption ($1 million dollar minimum spend in the state). All of this, plus diverse film locations and a mild climate make for ideal shooting conditions for virtually any production requirements.

For example, crew for the 2010 film Dear John, were able to shoot Kosovo, Africa, Afghanistan, and Europe within 30 miles of their base in Charleston, including beautiful city, county and beach scenes. Additionally, Lifetime’s TV series Army Wives has been filming in the state since 2007 and will wrap production on season 6 in March. “Use your imagination, we have it for your film,” said Tom Clark, of the South Carolina Film Commission (www.filmsc.com).

Abandoned Shrimp Boat in Lucy Creek Photo courtesy of Chris Kirk/S.C. Film
Abandoned Shrimp Boat in Lucy Creek
Photo courtesy of Chris Kirk/S.C. Film

In addition to location shooting, Studio Charleston is a new soundstage and production facility that provides filmmakers with 70,000 square feet of production space, including a large cyc-wall for photo and film work, the HANGAR Studio stage setting with 40-foot-high ceilings, and everything in between. “We believe Studio Charleston will be a major component of the state’s production industry,” said Studio Charleston founder Harald Galinski in a recent news release. “Feature-films, TV shows, commercials, music videos, all types of projects need a production infrastructure to function effectively. And the state needs a space like this to compete for those projects.”

Clearly, South Carolina is ready when you are. “We have ready and willing crews, as well as a diversity of locations and great service from the Film Commission before, during and after the ‘sale,’” says Clark.

Editor’s note:
More Southern locations will be featured in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Markee, including Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.