On Location: Mississippi bill aims to raise incentive caps
With an assist from "The Help," the Magnolia State is vying to become more attractive to filmmakers by expanding its movie incentives program.
A bill that would raise incentive caps was passed by Mississippi’s House Ways and Means Committee this week and is expected to go before the full House next week.
Launched in 2004, the program reimburses filmmakers for 25% of production expenditures and offers an additional 5% rebate for hiring state residents. The proposed legislation would double the annual cap on incentives to $40 million and would increase the limit for a single production to $10 million from $8 million. It would also broaden the rebate available for individual hires — including actors and directors — to $5 million per person, up from $1 million.
The sought-after increase was spurred by the success of DreamWorks' production of "The Help,” last year’s civil rights era movie about black maids in Mississippi, said Ward Emling, manager of the Mississippi Bureau of Film and Cultural Heritage.
The film, for which Octavia Spencer won this year's Oscar for supporting actress, cost $25 million to make and received $3.5 million in incentive rebates.
"The Help" was shot almost entirely in the small town of Greenwood, 100 miles north of Jackson, and resulted in an estimated $13 to $15 million in direct spending for the state, while generating $207 million in global ticket sales.
“It was the first time in a long time that we had a film focused in one community,” said Emling. “It was a really great test sample for everyone to see the impact.”
Other recent productions in Mississippi include the History channel’s new series “Full Metal Jousting,” which was filmed on a horse farm in Jackson; and Relativity’s “Act of Valor,” the Navy SEALs movie now in theaters, which was partially shot at the John C. Stennis Space Center in the southern part of the state.
Mississippi attracts mostly small-budget and independent movies, and the proposed bill does not significantly threaten Southern production strongholds like Louisiana and Georgia, which have uncapped programs and higher incentives. Nonetheless, Emling expects the higher caps to make Mississippi a more enticing film destination.
"Our locations are now in play," Emling said. "We may not have deserts, mountains, or a big city but we have plains, the Gulf Coast, the Delta, the Mississippi River — a lot of really great water locations."
— Dima Alzayat
Photo: A scene from DreamWork's "The Help," filmed in Greenwood, Miss. Credit: Dale Robinette / DreamWorks.