The State of Florida has diverse locations, a deep infrastructure, state-of-the-art sound stages and facilities, a strongly experienced, professional crew base and the third-largest talent pool in the U.S. Additionally, there are four major production centers in Florida –– Miami/South Florida, Orlando, Tampa/St. Petersburg and Jacksonville –– and each offer unique locations, experienced crew and service providers. The Governor’s Office of Film & Entertainment offers an online production guide with extensive listings for the state’s producers, crews, studios, equipment, support services, post facilities and accommodations. Florida also has several nationally recognized film programs at public and private colleges and universities, which frequently partner with productions to provide interns and other resources as well as a steady stream of new film and entertainment industry professionals.
Jocelyn Mock, communications coordinator at the Executive Office of the Governor’s Office of Film & Entertainment, reports that the House and Senate recently passed a comprehensive job bill that established a new $242 million transferable tax credit program that spans the next five years, with $53.5 million in tax credits available for the 2010/11 fiscal year. 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 volunteer family-friendly bonus. At press time, the bill was awaiting the governor’s signature for the new program to take effect on July 1, 2010 with the start of the new fiscal year. (More information about the incentive program can be found at http://www.filminflorida.com/ifi/incentives.asp.)
“Currently, we have two television series shooting in Florida, ‘Burn Notice’ and A&E’s new series ‘The Glades’ to debut this summer,” says Mock. “Commercials, telenovelas and reality shows, such as ‘Kourtney & Khloé Take Miami,’ among other independent productions, round out Florida’s production landscape. With the passage of the new incentive, we are expecting an increase in the amount of feature films shot in the state. Florida’s incentive program has also aided in the growth of our digital media sector. Orlando is home to [Electronic Arts] Tiburon, where NCAA college football, Madden [NFL] and Tiger Woods PGA Tour are all produced.”
Georgia may not offer snowy wastes and barren desert landscapes, but it’s got just about everything else, which explains why a diverse slate of films, including The Blind Side, Zombieland, Driving Miss Daisy, Forrest Gump and Madea Goes to Jail, have shot in the largest state east of the Mississippi. And with scenery ranging from Atlanta’s urban skyline to mountains, rural farmland, swamps, beaches and islands, Georgia has stood in for locations all over the world.
The state’s tax incentives make for a pretty view too. According to Bill Thompson, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office, Georgia offers an across-the-board flat-tax credit of 20 percent, with a possible added 10 percent if an animated state promo logo is included in the finished production. This credit applies not only to movies, TV shows and commercials but to newer industries, such as game development and animation. The minimum spend is $500,000, and Georgia exempts local sales-and-use tax for qualified companies. “We’ve been very busy, and this year’s shaping up to be even better than fiscal [year] 2009 when we had 26 movies,” reports Thompson. “We just shot Hall Pass … and [Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son], and we’re about to start 96 Minutes and [Fast Five]. We’ve also had a ton of TV work, including ‘The Vampire Diaries’ for The CW, ‘Drop Dead Diva’ for Lifetime and several pilots, such as ‘The Walking Dead.’”
The Atlanta area offers many services for production, editorial and post, including Tyler Perry Studios, Tyler Perry’s 200,000-square-foot studio situated on the former Delta Airlines campus of more than 30 acres. Consisting of five sound stages, a backlot, postproduction facility and 400-seat theater, it’s where Perry shoots his TV shows, including the TBS series “House of Payne,” the highest-rated first-run syndicated cable show, and his movies, such as the recent Why Did I Get Married Too? Perry says he’d “love to” rent out his studio but, with so many of his own projects in production, he doesn’t have the extra space. “We’re shooting two TV shows simultaneously and going into production on two more films and, although it’s 200,000 square feet, we’ve got every corner filled with something Tyler Perry.” To deal with demand, Perry just bought the adjacent 20 acres, “and we just broke out the plans for a $100 million expansion. I hope to start on that after the summer, when both of my new films are done.”
Fortunately, Atlanta has plenty of other facilities, including Turner Studios, with five large soundstages and services ranging from editorial and field operations to animation, audio and digital media management; RiverWood Studios, a 120-acre facility with large stages and onsite locations just south of metro Atlanta; PC&E Sound Stages in the heart of downtown, offering three large stages, studio lighting and a grip package; and Magick Lantern Studios, with a convenient downtown location and a large stage with Kino Flo lighting and Sony HD cameras. Other top Atlanta resources include Artisan PictureWorks, Creative Studios of Atlanta and Crawford Communications, Inc., well-known for its post services, including film transfer, digital and HD postproduction, offering 24p, effects, compositing, graphic design and 5.1 surround sound.
While it’s the largest, Atlanta isn’t the only production center in the state. Savannah has its own City of Savannah Film Office and its Savannah-area production, editorial and post services include Meddin Studios, Night Raven Productions and Spyhop Productions. And Macon has the Macon Film Commission and Macon-area services that include Gentlemen Grips and MDS Lighting, Inc.
Long known as a film-friendly state, North Carolina offers a wide range of scenery and locations, from the mountains in the west to its Atlantic beaches. Over the past three decades the state has hosted many high-profile film productions, such as Nights in Rodanthe, Leatherheads, The Color Purple, The Last of the Mohicans, Talladega Nights, Days of Thunder and Dirty Dancing. North Carolina has also hosted TV series like the WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” and The CW’s “One Tree Hill.” Of course, it hasn’t hurt that the state has long been aggressive in pursuing production. According to North Carolina Film Office Director Aaron Syrett, the state now offers “a 25-percent refundable tax credit on productions, with a very low minimum spend [of] $250,000 and no annual cap, allowing us to be very competitive with such states as Louisiana and Michigan.” Syrett also notes that “without the incentives, we wouldn’t have the business –– simple as that –– so they’ve been very effective.”
These great North Carolina incentives are about to get better, as two bills have recently been sent to Governor Bev Perdue for her signature. The first bill increases the per project cap for a feature film to $20 million dollars (from $7.5 million dollars); eliminates the 15-percent and alternative credit; establishes a 25-percent film incentive; expands the definition of qualifying expenses to include employee fringe contributions, including health, pension and welfare contributions; and includes per diems, stipends and living expenses paid for work being performed in North Carolina as qualifying expenses. (The qualifying expenses are subject to audit by the Secretary of Revenue before the credit is allowed.) The second bill eliminates the 6.9-percent corporate income tax on the amount of the incentive earned by the production company. As a result, the production company will now be able to realize the full 25 percent of qualifying expenses. The Governor is expected to sign these bills soon.
North Carolina offers a variety of studio options, starting with EUE/Screen Gems, located in Wilmington. As the largest complex in the state, it has nine stages plus Stage 10, which features a 60-by-60-foot indoor water tank. Trailblazer Studios in Raleigh offers two large stages, while Silver Hammer Studios in Charlotte has three and Creative Network Studios near Charlotte has two. Carolina Pinnacle Studios, some 40 miles from Greensboro, has four stages, and Earl Owensby Studios, some 50 miles from Charlotte, has eight stages and a water tank. “Business was a bit slow earlier this year but things are really ramping up now,” reports Syrett, “and the year ahead is looking good for us.” Current and recent production in North Carolina includes the films Witness Insecurity, A Box for Rob and Bolden! and the new Spike TV pilot “Playing with Guns.” “I’d like to remind people that Wilmington is still a major production center, and that we have highly experienced crews over 3,000 strong, as well as excellent infrastructure,” adds Syrett. “And all that has only grown over the past few years.”
It’s easy –– and misleading –– to think of South Carolina as a state where ritzy resorts like Hilton Head Island, historic cities like Charleston, and popular beach destinations like Myrtle Beach are the only main attractions. In fact, the state also offers plenty of wild nature and diversity, from its mountains in the west to the lakes, rivers and rural Americana stretching across to the Atlantic. The state has also hosted such films as Cold Mountain, The Strangers, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, The Patriot and The Notebook.
Another big draw, stressed in the state’s “cash rebates in 30 days” advertisements, is the production-friendly nature of South Carolina’s incentives. Tom Clark, project manager of the South Carolina Film Commission, notes that the state’s incentives differ from other states’ incentives in that it includes “a cash rebate, paid to the production company within 30 days of final audit,” while other states offer tax credits or tax refunds that require brokers and long waiting periods. Productions filming in South Carolina 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. Additionally, Clark notes that South Carolina offers up to a 30-percent cash rebate on in-state supplier expenditures if at least $1,000,000 is spent in the state. 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. The 30-percent supplier 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 all film productions are eligible to use state properties fee free.
“Our incentives have been very successful, although we don’t have as much money to throw around as Michigan and Georgia,” says Clark, who manages grants for local indie filmmakers. “But then, [the film] Dear John was shot here during winter, and you can always find green here, and we also doubled for six foreign countries, including Africa, Afghanistan and the Balkans –– and all within 30 minutes of Charleston.” Charleston is also the base for the top Lifetime series “Army Wives,” now in its fourth season in the city. “We’re also starting a new indie film, Little Red Wagon, produced by Anonymous Content and Beliefnet,” adds Clark, “and we have two more possible features coming, so we’re busy.”