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Monday, 26 April 2010 00:00

Midwest Region

Written by  Nathan Hoturoa Gray
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Hollywood’s recent blockbuster Public Enemies shows a side of our humanity that captivates moviegoers the world over. It’s that side of us that admires those who dare to take on the system and, in so doing, win the hearts of those who support the underdog, whatever their mission and underlying morals. These age-old allegiances have been explored in many films over the decades, and as the art form enables the retelling of real-life events to provide an alternative take on events, audiences view so-called “good guys” and “bad guys” from completely different perspectives. One can feel affection for Johnny Depp as he plays John Dillinger, one of Chicago’s more notorious criminals, in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. This is contrasted dynamically when audiences fall for Kevin Costner and Sean Connery as the good guys set against Al Capone in Brian De Palma’s unforgettable film The Untouchables. Films like these influence and inspire huge audiences around the world, and there’s a certain amount of responsibility in their making given the medium’s long-term impact on society.

This year’s tax-incentives report for the Midwest region aims to serve as an update to entice filmmakers like Mann and De Palma into their territories.

ILLINOIS

Chicago Commencing in early 2009 and with no expiration date, the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit increased the tax credit from 20 percent to 30 percent on all local spending. This has thus far produced positive results for incumbent Governor Pat Quinn and his team after a successful screening of Public Enemies, which generated $46.7 million in revenue for the Illinois economy. The 30-percent transferable tax credit on all qualifying expenditures includes labor, rentals, leases, purchases, services and housing, and a very detailed list has been supplied on the Illinois Film Office website. (Sorry guys, this excludes wrap parties and airfares in or out of Illinois.)

There’s also a 30-percent credit on Illinois salaries up to $100,000 per worker. For eligibility, the production must spend $50,000 in Illinois for projects running 29 minutes or less, or $100,000 for projects exceeding this time frame. The state is also completely unique in America given clauses in the incentive program that require production companies to promote diversity through the hiring of a percentage of local minorities.

Determined by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, an additional 15-percent credit of labor expenditures is offered if hired Illinois residents make more than $1,000 and live in geographic areas with high poverty or unemployment. A copy of an employee’s Illinois driver’s license or state identification showing an address in the impoverished area is necessary to receive this credit, and the program is applicable to film, television and commercials in all stages of production.

The awesome architecture of Chicago is truly cinematic, particularly the expansive lakefront that transforms with each season and the rich texture of the city’s neighborhoods. The Illinois Film Office is only too happy to help identify and secure permissions for any film location and source, offering an extensive locations library to assist producers and scouts. The city’s crew base is deep and experienced enough to handle three to four productions at any one time while providing high-quality production value.

INDIANA

With a swath of game parks, pristine lakes, corn fields, colorful cities and that car-racing extravaganza the Indy 500, Indiana is a captivating place to film. The Media Production Expenditure Tax Credit (MPETC) has helped grow the Indiana production industry by providing individuals and companies with a refundable tax credit of up to 15 percent of qualified investment in a qualified media-production project. Unchanged since July 2008 and capped at $2.5 million, the MPETC is refundable. Therefore, if the amount of the MPETC exceeds the taxpayer’s state income-tax liability for that taxable year, the taxpayer is entitled to a refund of the excess of the credit amount over their state income-tax liability. The minimum spend for features, shorts, documentaries and television productions are set at $100,000. And, according to Film Indiana, this is reduced to only $50,000 when involving digital media production that is intended for reasonable commercial exploitation. Advertisement messages broadcast on radio or television are also included under this category as well as training media programs, music videos and productions for external marketing and communications.

All filming permits are cheap and easy to come by with the help of Film Indiana, and any accommodation that is rented for 30 days or more is exempt from both county innkeeper’s tax and sales tax. Erin Newell, project manager of Film Indiana, stipulates that Indiana’s biggest selling point is its incredible accessibility. “You can film in the city of Indianapolis and then be on a farm within 15 minutes,” she says. Furthermore, the sincere enthusiasm and outpouring of Hoosier hospitality from the locals makes for an enjoyable filming experience for everyone. The most recent film shot in Indiana was the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and CMT’s popular TV production “World’s Strictest Parents” will soon shoot in the state.

KANSAS

Kansas is renowned for its big, beautiful skies and spectacular sunsets. Once the bed of a huge inland sea, vast deposits of limestone exist throughout the state along with giant bluffs interspersed amongst rolling prairies and hundreds of lakes surrounded by forests. The Kansas City Film Commission provides full-service location scouting and on-set liaison for productions of all sizes.

Offering a 30-percent non-refundable, non-transferable film-production tax credit for all associated costs made directly in Kansas, the incentive is capped at a total annual amount of $2 million. Such costs include rentals of production facilities and equipment, wages for Kansas residents, food and lodging. However, Peter Jasso, director of the Kansas Film Commission, states that this latest incentive was suspended by the legislature over the recent 2009–10 legislative session in a response to budget shortfalls. “We are currently looking at alternatives and ways to strengthen the incentive when it is scheduled to come back online in 2011,” says Jasso.

In general, the hotel-occupancy tax is waived for stays exceeding 28 days, and the Department of Commerce extends this initiative to film, video, commercial or television productions if the project is 30 minutes or less in length (with an expected in-state expenditure budget that exceeds $50,000) or over $100,000 if it is more than 30 minutes. Films currently screening in Kansas include The Only Good Indian, Earthwork and Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula, and Filmmaker Patrick Rea is currently shooting Nailbiter in the state.

MISSOURI

Jones Farm in Springfield, Missouri With a minimum in-state spend of $100,000 for films longer than 30 minutes and $50, 000 for films less that 30 minutes, a qualifying production company can receive up to 35 percent of the amount spent in Missouri (or 30 percent for qualifying out-of-state cast and crew when Missouri income taxes are withheld). Currently, the tax credit program is capped at $4.5 million (which began back in 1999), playing a significant role in all films that have come to the state.

The Missouri Film Office is fully geared up to help filmmakers with all location scouting and pre-production needs, even providing videos and photos. The scenery and film locations within the state range from rural, small towns to big cities with an abundance of historical establishments. Missouri has the cheap fuel, lodging and supplies necessary to create that cinematographic holiday feeling, which was historically useful on the production of National Lampoon’s Vacation. With state parks, such as Lake of the Ozarks, Elephant Stones and Bennett Springs, most locations don’t require paid permits, however there needs to be prior warning and proof of insurance if filming is to take place on publicly owned or private properties. Airports and crew bases are strategically placed all around Missouri, including Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield/Branson, with filming locations rarely more than an hour away from the airports. This all made shooting in Missouri ideal for films like Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Paramount’s latest hit Up in the Air, starring George Clooney.

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