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Wednesday, 23 May 2012 13:08

Scouting the Natural Beauty of the Southeast Atlantic Region

Written by  Nathan Hoturoa Gray
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With its bustling cities, foliage-filled landscapes and scintillating mountain vistas, the Southeast Atlantic Region utterly spoils directors and producers by offering irresistible climes and a wealth of location choices. And when these breathtaking views merge with the region’s financial incentives and increasingly sophisticated production infrastructure, this slice of the American film industry should never be lightly dismissed. Take a closer look at how 2012 is unfolding for the flourishing states of Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

SOUTH CAROLINA 
With over 100 feature films under its production belt, South Carolina boasts a mild climate that allows for year-round shooting while offering plenty of natural beauty that includes mountainous vistas, picturesque lakes, subtropical jungles, long-winding rivers and an abundance of rural Americana settings. The South Carolina Film Commission works one-on-one with every production, with the staff receiving nothing but praise for contributing to the ease of doing business in the Palmetto State.

Executive Producer Jeff Melvoin is emphatic with his high regard for South Carolina. His top-rated Lifetime drama series “Army Wives,” currently in its sixth season, has contributed over $85 million to the state’s economy since 2006. “I’ve worked on 12 series and, in my experience, South Carolina is unmatched in offering so many diverse locations in close proximity to each other,” says Melvoin. “On our schedule and our budget we could never have achieved the same level of production value anywhere else.… The film incentives southeastatlantic_southcarolina_may have brought us here, but it’s the crew, locations and local hospitality that have kept us here and made ‘Army Wives’ such a pleasure and a success.” Executive Producer Jeremiah Samuels (Dear John, The Conspirator) feels similarly. “Shooting in South Carolina was excellent,” says Samuels. “We had a great time especially with the combination of natural resources, older beach houses, plantations, unspoiled coastlines, crew rate and availability as well as the good and dependable rebates.”

With its current crew base at approximately two deep, South Carolina offers many forms of TV and film production incentives that are among some of the best in the region. Productions can receive up to a 20-percent cash rebate on in-state employee wages and a 10-percent cash rebate up to $3,500 on out-of-state employee wages. Out-of-state performing artists (including stunt performers) are eligible for the full 20-percent cash rebate. The 20-percent wage rebate applies to any employee of the production who earns less than $1,000,000 and whose wages are subject to the state’s withholding tax. South Carolina also offers a cash rebate up to a 30-percent on in-state supplier expenditures if at least $1,000,000 is spent in the state. This rebate applies to all goods and services acquired from a South Carolina supplier. In addition, all productions spending over $250,000 are exempt from sales-and-accommodations taxes and eligible to use state properties fee free. Most uniquely, however, South Carolina’s incentive systems differ from the rest of the country in that the cash rebate must be paid to the production company within 30 days of the final audit.

GEORGIA
Georgia offers a 30-percent total transferrable tax credit that applies to movies, TV shows and commercials as well as newer industries, such as game development and animation. The minimum spend is $500,000 and, on top of a local sales-and-use tax for qualified companies, the tax credit covers both resident and non-resident labor as well as in-state goods and services utilized for production. The tax credit has seen an influx of films and television series over the past couple of years, including Contagion, X-Men: First Class, Real Steel, Wanderlust and the hit TV series “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Walking Dead.” In 2010 alone, the film industry’s economic impact on Georgia was $1.4 billion, and after hosting films like Zombieland, Due Date and Oscar-winner The Blind Side, it’s no surprise that so many filmmakers want to get in on the action, especially now that the state’s boasts nearly 5,500 talented crewmembers. Projects currently being filmed in 2012 are Killing Season (starring John Travolta and Robert De Niro), Trouble with the Curve (with Justin Timberlake and Amy Adams), Madea’s Witness Protection, “Archer” and “House of Payne.”

Executive Producer Timothy Bourne has been involved with a myriad of Georgia productions, including The Blind Side, Footloose and Joyful Noise, and he gives the state high praise. “There’s sort of a small-town, homey feel to it here,” explains Bourne. “However, with that is a huge amount of infrastructure. It’s a travel center, so it’s easy to get in and out of, the crew is highly experienced and professional, and the attitude level is just wonderful. Not to mention, you have the canvas of Atlanta to use and paint magnificent pictures with.” Recent and upcoming feature films shot in Georgia include Good Deeds, Wanderlust, The Three Stooges, American Reunion, The Wettest Country, The Odd Life of Timothy Green and What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

NORTH CAROLINA
Blessed with diverse location options that range from idyllic beaches to unending plains, North Carolina is a worthwhile contender for manifesting your cinematic vision. And with its current 25-percent tax credit, which is now set up to $20 million per project, the state is aggressively pursuing filmmaking opportunities. “In 2011 we hit the highest we have ever done, which is $220 million in production, and for 2012 we’re already committed to up to $165 million,” reports Aaron Syrett, director of the North Carolina Film Office. Furthermore, the 6.9-percent corporate income tax has been eliminated on the amount of the incentive taken by the production company, which allows productions to fully realize the 25 percent of qualifying expenses. With $250,000 minimum spend, the tax credit has also expanded the definition of qualifying expenses to include employee fringe contributions (such as health, pension and welfare contributions) and includes per diems, stipends and living expenses paid for work performed in North Carolina.

southeastatlantic_northcarolina“From one of the industry’s smartest incentives to the best crew base east of California to the vast array of locations available, people are rediscovering that North Carolina is the place to be for filmmaking,” says Syrett. “Productions are taking place throughout the state, both large and small, and filmmakers are enjoying the state’s relaxing atmosphere and well-established infrastructure.” The highlights of North Carolina’s production slate in 2011 include the much-anticipated feature The Hunger Games as well as Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, “One Tree Hill,” “Eastbound & Down” and Showtime’s Golden Globe-winner “Homeland,” which is set to shoot its second season in the state. Other projects lined up for 2012 include Iron Man 3, The Trials of Cate McCullough (starring Kate Beckinsale) and the new Cinemax drama series “Banshee.”

“Michael Landon, Jr. and I had an absolutely terrific filming experience in North Carolina,” says Brian Bird, executive producer of the Hallmark Channel TV movie The Shunning. “Everyone from the film commissioner to Regional Commissioner Rebecca Clark down to the local crew base and local actors pulled out all the stops to welcome our production to North Carolina.... We were so thrilled with our experience that we are starting production on the sequel The Confession right back where we made The Shunning in Winston-Salem and the Piedmont Triad.”

FLORIDA  
Now that the Florida Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive offers a $242-million transferable tax-credit program throughout 2012 and the next three years, there has been a resurgence of crews returning en masse to the Sunshine State as production increases at a dramatic rate — with over 150 projects certified until 2015. Projects currently being shot in the Florida include Fox TV’s “The Finder” and the films Missionary and Spring Breakers, which is the third feature to be lured via the incentive program since last year’s Dolphin Tale. Steven Soderbergh’s male-stripper comedy Magic Mike (starring Channing Tatum) and the poverty drama Sunlight, Jr. (starring Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts) have also shot scenes in Florida with both films scheduled for release later this year.

southeastatlantic_floridaUnder the current tax incentive program, film, TV (including commercials and music videos) and digital-media projects can qualify for a base tax credit of 20 percent. Projects can also qualify for two additional bonuses, each worth an additional 5 percent in tax credits, for shooting during the off-season or applying for the family-friendly bonus. There’s also an exemption from Florida’s sales tax at the point of sale for qualifying production companies. The priority for qualifying/certifying projects for tax credit awards is determined on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, visit http://www.filminflorida.com/ifi/incentives.asp.

Florida is blessed with a wealth of beautiful locales, including sun-kissed beaches and the exotic small-town charms of the Florida Quays, and the Florida Office of Film & Entertainment offers an online production guide with extensive listings for the state’s top locations, producers, crews, studios, equipment, support services, post facilities and accommodations. Rock of Ages (featuring Tom Cruise), My Fair Lidy, Space Brothers, Finding Joy and Zero Energy America are just some of the films that have recently wrapped in Florida.
With a wide array of top production facilities, tax incentives, crew expertise and location features, producers and directors just can’t resist shooting in these four Southeast Atlantic states. And despite the ongoing global competition for production dollars, this region is holding its own on the cinematic playground.

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