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Spotlight: The South Part II

A region so busy we’re visiting twice

By Cory Sekine-Pettite

[Clockwise from Top] Deadline, filmed in Tennessee.

[Right] The Blind Side, filmed in Georgia.
Photo: Georgia Dept. of Economic Development.

[Middle] Hunger Games, filmed in North Carolina.
Photo: Lions Gate/Murray Close.

[Left] Sarasota, Florida.

There is so much happening in the beautiful South that this location feature from the Nov/Dec issue of Markee deserves a sequel. As previously stated, 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 their endeavors. For this issue, we spoke with the state film offices in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee to learn about their incentive packages and to get a sense for what it’s like to shoot in their states.

Florida: A production hot spot

Florida is a perennial production hot spot. Among the state’s most attractive features, according to the Florida Office of Film & Entertainment, are its broad and diverse locations. Additionally, the film office works with more than 60 film liaisons throughout the state to better service clients. “We also offer an online location photo library, which immediately exemplifies all that Florida has to offer. We’ve got everything but snow,” says Communications Coordinator, Colleen McClure.

Dolphin Tale (2011), starring Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Harry Connick Jr. was filmed in Florida. Photo: The Florida Office of Film & Entertainment.
Dolphin Tale (2011), starring Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd,
and Harry Connick Jr. was filmed in Florida.
Photo: The Florida Office of Film & Entertainment.

“We’re also the only state to have a Los Angeles Film Liaison, Susan Simms, who maintains a constant presence in LA to provide additional service and support to clients,” McClure added. “All that coupled with our financial incentives and 60-plus local liaisons to assist with local needs make Florida an ideal location for production.”

Florida’s Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive is a transferrable tax credit, which awards 20 percent to 30 percent as follows:

  • 20 percent base percentage
  • 5 percent Off Season Bonus (for certain production types)
  • 5 percent Family Friendly Bonus (for certain production types)
  • 5 percent Underutilized Region Bonus (for General Production Queue only)
  • 5 percent Qualified Production Facility/Digital Media Facility Bonus (for General Production Queue, on expenditures associated with production activity at a Qualified Production Facility/Digital Media Facility)
  • 15 percent Florida Student/Recent Graduate Bonus (for General Production Queue, on student/recent grad wages and other compensation).

The Florida Office of Film & Entertainment (www.filminflorida.com) says there are three different queues productions can utilize which have varying eligibility requirements: General Production, Commercial and Music Video, and Independent and Emerging Media Production. More information can be found online. Additionally, a list of current productions is available on their website, but here’s a list the office provided of “stand-out” productions:

  • Burn Notice – USA
  • The Glades – A&E
  • Magic City – STARZ (Premieres April 2012)
  • The Inbetweeners – MTV (Premieres 2012)
  • Dolphin Tale (In Theatres)
  • Rock of Ages (In theatres June 2012)
  • Step Up 4 (In Theatres August 2012)
  • I Am Number 4 (Available on DVD)
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Available on DVD)
  • Tooth Fairy 2 (Available on DVD)
  • Madden NFL 2012 (Video game, available now)
  • NCAA Football 2012 (Video game, available now)
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2012 (Video game, available now)

Let’s not forget the multitude of Spanish-language broadcast networks that contribute to the unique structure of Florida’s film and television industries. The Florida film office says that with more than 13 million Hispanic households in the United States, the demand for Hispanic and Latino programming is growing. Telemundo, which has studios based out of Miami, recently delivered the best performance in the network’s broadcast history (TVByTheNumbers). The Telemundo Network reaches 94 percent of U.S. Hispanic viewers and has more than 1,000 cable affiliates. Florida also is home to Univision, another major Spanish-language television network. “The growth of viewers of Latino and Hispanic programming has contributed to the development and success of these networks and their productions, many of which film in or feature Florida and have been recipients of the entertainment industry incentive,” McClure said.

Parker in Palm Beach County

Getting a wide shot from the set of Parker.
Getting a wide shot from the set of Parker.

img alt=”The Boca Raton Resort and Club. Photos: Jack English” src=”/images/janfeb12/300.jpg” style=”width: 149px; height: 215px; float: right;” />
small>The Boca Raton Resort and Club.
em>Photos: Jack English

Since 1989, the Palm Beach County Film and Television Commission has been a premiere location for film, TV and still photography shoots, generating millions of dollars for the local economy. VFX houses – such as Digital Domain – and studios – such as G-Star – have taken root in the county, making the area even more attractive for major productions. Currently, filming is underway for the Taylor Hackford (Ray) directed feature Parker. The film, which stars Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez and Nick Nolte, is adapted from the Donald Westlake novel “Flashfire.” Shooting for Parker has taken place in the county’s most picturesque locations, including all three of the bridges that span from West Palm Beach to Palm Beach, the Boca Raton Resort and Club, and around the Intracoastal Waterway.


Sarasota County – the ‘fresh face’ of Florida

The set of Parker; the independent film Deadly Closure; Morgan Fairchild in Worker's Comp; stunt car explosion from a TV pilot; stunt car driving off a Sarasota bridge for a TV pilot.
[Clockwise from Top] The set of Parker; the independent film Deadly Closure; Morgan Fairchild in Worker’s Comp; stunt car explosion from a TV pilot; stunt car driving off a Sarasota bridge for a TV pilot.

The Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office now has in place a unique cash rebate incentive program unlike any other in Florida, which provides 100 percent cash back for any County government fees such as use of lands, buildings, roads, parks, beaches, schools, law enforcement, fire, emergency services and more, and up to 20 percent cash back for non-government qualified expenditures in Sarasota County. According to Jeanne Corcoran, the film office’s director, in the first five months this program has been in effect, five productions have taken advantage of the quick and simple incentives, including the feature film Parker, the indie film Free Ride, the low-budget horror film Demon, the Worker’s Comp TV pilot starring Morgan Fairchild and Robert Carradine, and a nationally and internationally televised concert special starring Jackie Evancho for PBS. “We are seeing a surge in interest, especially from independent films, who recognize the unique opportunity for a cash rebate incentive as well as the ‘fresh face’ of Florida showing locations that have never been over-exposed,” said Corcoran. “It’s an exciting – and gratifying – time for the gorgeous, pristine Gulf of Mexico side of the state to see the number and scope of projects growing!”

Georgia: It’s on everyone’s mind

During the last several years, Georgia lawmakers worked aggressively to attract as much TV and film production as is feasible to host. Clearly, their work is paying off. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Georgia is now among the top five states in the nation for film and TV production, with more than 327 productions shot in Georgia from July 2010 through June 2011, bringing in more than $683.5 million in investment to the state. These projects have generated an economic impact of $2.4 billion.

Impressive numbers to say the least – made possible in part by the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, which provides an income tax credit of 20 percent to qualified productions, and an additional 10 percent tax credit to productions that embed a Georgia promotional logo in the titles or credits, or as product placement within the content of the production. The tax credits may be awarded not only to traditional feature films, television series, commercials and music videos, but also to innovative new industries such as video game development and animation. (For more information, visit www.georgia.org/GeorgiaIndustries/Entertainment/AboutUs/Pages/Incentives.aspx.)

Sandra Bullock in her Oscar-winning role as Leigh Ann Tuohy in The Blind Side.  Photo: Georgia Dept. of Economic Development.
Sandra Bullock in her Oscar-winning role as Leigh Ann Tuohy in The Blind Side.
Photo: Georgia Dept. of Economic Development.

“While our competitive incentives are a huge part of what makes our state unique, it is also important to mention our skilled crew base, growing infrastructure, diverse locations, and accessibility through the world’s busiest airport,” said Stefanie Paupeck, a representative of Georgia’s film office. “It’s the combination of all of these assets that has helped the state’s entertainment industry achieve record numbers.”

The list of productions currently underway or recently completed in Georgia could fill the pages of this entire feature, but have a look at this partial list:

  • Joyful Noise, starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah (Jan. 13, 2012)
  • Good Deeds, Tyler Perry Productions (Feb. 24, 2012)
  • Wanderlust, starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd (Feb. 24, 2012)
  • The Three Stooges, starring Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, Larry David, Jennifer Hudson, Sofia Vergara and Jane Lynch (Apr. 4, 2012)
  • American Reunion, starring the entire original cast of American Pie (Apr. 6, 2012)
  • The Wettest County, starring Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy (Apr. 20, 2012)
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting, starring Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, Matthew Morrison, Brooklyn Decker and Anna Kendrick (May 11, 2012)
  • Neighborhood Watch, starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller (July 27, 2012)
  • The Odd Life of Timothy Green, starring Jennifer Garner (Aug. 15, 2012)
  • Jayne Mansfield’s Car, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Kevin Bacon, Robert Duvall and John Hurt (2013).

Naturally, all of this work has attracted a growing number of industry-related services to Georgia, including professional production and technical crew members, attorneys, production companies, equipment suppliers, production support services, postproduction and more. (Georgia’s “Film, Video & Digital Entertainment SourceBook” provides a complete listing.)

With these professionals at the ready and Georgia’s unique and authentic landscapes, including beautiful mountains, rural farmlands, coastal beaches and islands, swamps and marshes, scenic rivers and lakes, small towns, and major metropolitan cities it is no wonder the state is attracting so many productions.

North Carolina: Setting records and creating jobs

Pop quiz: What state boasts the highest mountains on the East Coast and includes great locations for shooting large cities, beaches, small towns, and historic towns? If you guessed North Carolina (or just noticed the subtitle above), you would be correct.

Add one of the largest soundstages in the world to the mix – the EUE Screen Gems studio campus in Wilmington, N.C. – and you have a recipe for a successful production.

In fact, The North Carolina Film Office says the state has a long, distinguished film history that continues to thrive. The last three decades have seen notable films such as The Color Purple, The Last of the Mohicans, Dirty Dancing, and Days of Thunder. More recently, North Carolina served as the backdrop for Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Leatherheads, and Nights in Rodanthe. Also, for six seasons, the state was home to the WB’s Dawson’s Creek. This past year marked seven seasons in North Carolina for the CW’s One Tree Hill.

Such high profile and successful productions were made possible, in part, by the state’s incentive program. North Carolina’s current tax incentive package consists of a 25-percent, fully refundable credit (minimum spend of $250,000) with a per project cap of $20 million ($80 million N.C. spend). Goods, services, compensation, wages, and fringes qualify for the credit – first $1 million in compensation qualifies for each above-the-line and below-the-line person. There is no annualized cap.

Jennifer Lawrence stars in The Hunger Games, a futuristic, sci-fi thriller set for a March release.  Photo: Lions Gate/Murray Close.
Jennifer Lawrence stars in The Hunger Games, a futuristic, sci-fi thriller set for a March release.
Photo: Lions Gate/Murray Close.

Notable movie and TV productions currently underway (or pending) in North Carolina include Iron Man 3 (pre-production, 2013 release), The Hunger Games (March 2012), and Homeland (Showtime), all of which are contributing to a record year for the state. The film office announced in December 2011 that it had its best year of film production and spending – a record $220 million.

“It’s been a great year here in North Carolina and even better is that 2012 looks like it is on pace to top 2011,” said NC Film Office Director, Aaron Syrett. “Not only have we had a record number of jobs created and money spent in the state, we have seen production taking place in all areas of North Carolina.”

In addition to the direct-spend, productions have created more than 3,300 crew positions and provided in excess of 23,000 talent and background extra opportunities – making for more than 26,000 total jobs. Additionally, there are many local production companies making names for themselves in the industry, including Trailblazer Studios, Out of Our Minds Animation Studios, and Hammerhead Entertainment. (A complete list of production companies can be found at www.ncfilm.com.)

“We are delighted that the industry is once again providing high-paying, quality jobs for our residents and having a big impact on businesses and local communities,” Syrett added.

Tennessee: Rich in music & filming locations

According to the Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission (TFEMC, www.tn.gov/film), the state of Tennessee features three distinct topographical regions, which offer endless location possibilities from the West Tennessee delta and plains to the gently rolling hills of Middle Tennessee to the foothills and majestic peaks of the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. Further, Tennessee is rich in many types of entertainment and other assets located throughout the state, TFEMC says, some of which include:

  • Access to the best musicians, songwriters, scorers, and singers in the world covering all types of music genres, including country, classical, blues, jazz, rock, gospel and hip hop.
  • If a filmmaker shoots in Tennessee and is participating in our incentive program, music rights, licenses, recordings/studio sessions, musicians, singers/songwriters and all Tennessee talent qualifies.
  • Tennessee is a right-to-work state and welcomes both non-union and union productions. Covering 41,219 square miles Tennessee is served by six major interstates, three major railroads and five regional airports, two of which offer nonstop flights between Tennessee and Los Angeles or New York.
  • The climate provides filmmakers with favorable conditions for working throughout the year with a minimum of weather related disruptions.

About that incentive program: Tennessee has two filming incentives, which can be combined for a rebate of up to 32 percent of a qualified Tennessee spend. Now the details: For the first incentive – a 17-percent rebate administered through the TFEMC – an out-of-state company must have a minimum qualified Tennessee spend of $500,000 per production/per episode. A Tennessee company must have a minimum qualified local spend of $150,000 per production/per episode.

The second incentive is a 15 percent headquarters rebate on a minimum qualified Tennessee spend of $1 million that is administered by the Tennessee Department of Revenue. A Tennessee company must be registered as a headquarters location with the Department of Revenue. An out-of-state company can partner with a Tennessee headquarters company to access this program.

Generally speaking, payments to Tennessee vendors and residents while filming in Tennessee are considered a qualified Tennessee spend. Payments made to non-residents or non-Tennessee vendors do not qualify.

Additionally, anything that is not original film or television content recorded in Tennessee will not qualify for the incentives. Examples include but are not limited to: live shows, concerts, music videos, training videos, etc. Also, the postproduction of a project that did not shoot in Tennessee, or has already shot in Tennessee without receiving the required certification in advance, will not qualify.

Water for Elephants, starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon,  was released in April 2011.  Photo: TN Film, Entertainment & Music Commission
Water for Elephants, starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, was released in April 2011.
Photo: TN Film, Entertainment & Music Commission

So what has been filming lately in Tennessee? For starters, the 2010 film Country Strong starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw, the 2011 movie Water for Elephants with Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, and the independent film Deadline (2012) with Eric Roberts. For television, CMT’s Next Superstar reality/competition show is filmed in Nashville, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has shot in the state, and the 2010 TV movie Hound Dogs filmed in Nashville.

Additionally, Gisela Moore, a TFEMC project manager reports that local production companies have come into their own in the state, including Sony Provident, Filmhouse, Jupiter Entertainment, Ruckus Films, Dogwood Entertainment, RIVR Media and Scripps Network to name a few. (For a complete list, view the commission’s online directory at https://www.tnecdit.net/MVCTNFilm.)

So what’s on the horizon for Tennessee? Moore says there is a TV pilot the commission is hoping will get picked up, a reality show, a feature film that just wrapped, and an independent feature began shooting in February. And that’s all music to everyone’s ears at TFEMC.

November 12, 2012