In the Southeastern States of South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, the people are nice but the incentives are even nicer. With beautiful scenery and temperate weather, your favorite vacation spots may just become your new favorite location spots!
It’s time to consider South Carolina as more than just the vacationer’s paradise. With the states’ generous three-part incentive package, film-friendly atmosphere and diverse scenery, South Carolina may soon come to be known as a filmmaker’s paradise as well.
“South Carolina is very diverse in topography, offering mountain vistas, sandy beaches, Norman Rockwell small-town Americana and even Southeast Asia,” says Jeff Monks, film commissioner of the South Carolina Film Commission. “There are only three cities that require film permits within South Carolina. Combine that with year-round green foliage, abundant airline access and an experienced crew and supplier base, and you have the makings of a world-class location.”
The South Carolina Production Fund is just one portion of the state’s three-part incentive package. [This] includes the South Carolina Motion Picture Incentive Act under which qualifying productions may receive a 20-percent employee wage rebate; a 30-percent South Carolina Supplier Rebate; a six-percent to eight-and-one-half-percent state sales-tax exemption on all production purchases, rentals and leases; and tax credits for the investment in South Carolina produced films or for creation of South Carolina productions or postproduction facilities, whereby a taxpayer may claim an income tax credit of up to 20 percent of the taxpayer's cash investment in the development or production of a single S.C. motion picture.
“In particular, the creation of a South Carolina Production Motion Picture Project provides that tax credits are limited to $100,000 per taxpayer, allowing for all unused credits to be carried forward 15 succeeding taxable years,” Monk adds. “[However] all credits cannot reduce a taxpayer’s income-tax liability by more than 50 percent for any given year.” For the South Carolina Production or Postproduction Facility incentive, a taxpayer may claim an income-tax credit of up to 20 percent for the construction, conversion or equipping (or any combination of these activities) of a motion picture production or postproduction facility. And minimum investments in the facilities apply. According to Monks, in addition to allowing the 15-succeeding-years credit carry-over and the 50-percent income-reduction limitation, the taxpayer total credits claimed by all taxpayers may not exceed $5 million in a single qualified facility.
South Carolina’s trilogy of tax breaks finishes strong with the South Carolina Production Fund. In 2004, the South Carolina Film Production Fund was established for projects developed by professionals in the motion picture and related industries and institutions of higher learning in South Carolina that have film, multimedia or media arts programs. “With this fund, the South Carolina Film Commission and other members of South Carolina’s indigenous film industry will encourage the development of collaborative projects between film and multimedia professionals and institutions of higher learning,” says Monks. “The goal of these projects is to provide in-state film students and professionals with additional skills and practical experience that will better prepare them to find employment in the film business. The bottom line: develop students and professionals as a ready resource to support the growth of South Carolina’s entertainment industry as it comes to the state.
All in all, a South Carolina shoot can benefit everyone involved. “The industry benefits by having a ready-to-work crew; graduates benefit by being better prepared to gain employment; and the state of South Carolina and its people benefit from the income and the prominence generated by a successful in-state entertainment industry,” says Monks.
“North Carolina is proud of its non-polluted natural resources, and the film industry wants to be a part of the solution in keeping the natural resources clean,” says Aaron Syrett, director of the North Carolina Film Office. “We launched a Film Green website over a year and a half ago. When you click on the film green tab, the N.C. Film orange-branded site turns green to encourage filmmakers to start to begin thinking more in terms of sustainable filmmaking. We realize it is not an instant change, in a most cases it’s learning new behaviors in the way we work. We enlisted the help of [the] Environmental Media Association (EMA), [and] they are a group that has been doing it close to 20 years, so we felt we could learn a lot from their success in helping put forth a strong green program.”
North Carolina’s temperatures are mild most of the year and the state enjoys sunshine for about 210 days annually. And Charlotte, Asheville, Raleigh and areas surrounding Greensboro and Winston-Salem all offer stage options for filmmakers. The state is also home to the historic Appalachian Mountains. “[The state] offers a look that is hard to imitate on the East Coast,” says Syrett. “Piedmont Triad –– Winston-Salem, Greensboro, High Point –– with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts … is home to North Carolina’s vibrant independent film scene. [And] filmmakers can get a legitimate big-city feel in Charlotte, [which] does a lot of commercial business [and] has the infrastructure to handle it.”
Wilmington offers filmmakers not only the use of scenic beaches, but also the choice of shooting in-studio. EUE/Screen Gems in Wilmington is the largest studio complex in the state, with a total of nine stages. Wilmington also now has Dream Stage 10 available. “[It has a] 37,500 square-foot stage with a huge water tank,” says Syrett.
Not to be forgotten are the generous tax incentives North Carolina offers to in-state film productions. According to the North Carolina Film Office, as of August 2008, North Carolina offers a full 15-percent tax credit on productions over $250,000 and not exceeding a credit per project over $7.5M (on an approximately $50M in-state spend). Additionally, the state offers a Sales & Use Tax Exemption; a “privilege tax” of 1 percent for film production-related in-state purchases and rentals; the Qualified Business Investment Tax Credit Program; the Accommodation Tax Refund and a no-fee use of state-owned properties.
“North Carolina, before the days of incentives, was a destination location for Hollywood,” says Syrett. “The long relationship between filmmakers and North Carolina allowed us to build up a true strong industry. That relationship continues today. It is no longer only about the locations; they come for our professional workforce, which are among some the best film professionals in the world. They come for the equipment and our stages, and, of course, they still come for the great locations.”
“Florida was one of the first states to establish a state film office and the first to open an office in Los Angeles to better serve production clients on the West Coast,” says Niki Welge, production coordinator of the Florida Governor's Office of Film & Entertainment. “Florida provides a sales-tax exemption and a financial-incentive cash rebate of 15 to 22 percent, which is considered very aggressive given Florida is one of only nine states without a personal income tax. In addition to Florida’s state office in Tallahassee and field office in Los Angeles, Florida enjoys a network of some 54 local film offices throughout the state that work together pursuing projects, responding to leads and providing seamless service to clients.
“The State of Florida not only has amazing and diverse locations, it has a deep infrastructure, including state-of-the-art sound stages and facilities, the third-largest talent pool and the third-largest crew base in the United States,” notes Welge. “Florida also offers 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.”
According to Welge, there are four major production centers in Florida: the Miami/Dade County Office of Film & Entertainment in Miami/South Florida, the Tampa/Hillsborough Film Commission in Tampa/St. Petersburg, the Metro Orlando Film & Entertainment Commission and the Jacksonville Film Commission. Each area offers unique locations, experienced crew and top-notch service providers.
The diversity of Florida's locations can be surprising. “Our state can match or ‘cheat’ for many looks, including Middle America, Cape Cod, Antebellum Majesty, cattle and horse country, small town USA, big city skylines, the jungles of South America and, of course, oceanfront splendor,” says Welge. “For example, Miami doubled for Nigeria in an episode of ‘Burn Notice’; Ocala doubled for Peru in The Celestine Prophecy; Pensacola-area beaches doubled for Middle Eastern deserts in Secondhand Lions; Jacksonville played the role of New York City in The Devil’s Advocate and Chicago in First Time Felon;Orlando has doubled for jungles in Thailand, Vietnam and South America; and Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg doubled for the jungles of Panama in an episode of ‘Prison Break.’”
Florida also offers the Florida Green Production Plan. “Because Florida’s film, television and digital media industry can have a significant impact on our environment, our office encourages companies to make environmentally wise decisions at every phase of production via our Green Production Plan,” Welge explains. “The Plan can be found on our website at http://www.filminflorida.com/prl/gpp.asp.”
One of Florida’s most film-friendly communities is in Palm Beach County, which sprawls across 2,000 square miles with eight studios and hosts 60 television stations, and many production, recording and distribution companies. Adding to the state’s incentives, Palm Beach County offers a $150,000 Film & Television Incentive (FTI) Grant Program. The Grant was designed to attract film, television and multimedia businesses to Palm Beach County and to provide support to local expanding businesses that are also part of the entertainment industry.
The Palm Beach County Film Commission also offers a free, one-stop permitting process that allows applicants to apply online for permits within 33 film-friendly municipalities and taxing districts in Palm Beach County.
Palm Beach County is also home to the G-Star School of the Arts, which not only attracts new filmmaking residents, but also nurtures homegrown talent. “It’s a charter high school for film, television and theater where the filmmakers are invited [to] utilize the facilities at no cost to them,” explains Palm Beach Count Film Commissioner Chuck Elderd. “Expenses, such as production offices, parking, equipment, props and studio space, are free to independent filmmakers.” G-Star students are not required to participate, but may take part in the filmmaking process to get firsthand experience in the craft. Elderd also mentions that the school will break ground at G-Star Studios ─ the largest film sound stage in the state ─ in September 2009. “The sound stage will anchor the 93,000-square-foot G-Star Studios where over 30 feature films have already been produced, including The Prince and the Pauper with Dylan and Cole Sprouse, [and] G-Star’s newest feature film It’s a Dog Gone Tale: Destiny’s Stand, starring Golden Globe-winner Barry Bostwick [of] ‘Spin City and Ron Palillo [from] ‘Welcome Back, Kotter,’” says Elderd. “The film was directed by Joe Reilly and Dean Lyon is signed on as the special effects coordinator. Mr. Lyon was the visual effects supervisor for all three Lord of the Rings films.”
Elderd reports that other recent Palm Beach County productions include a Claritin allergy commercial, a “Hey Monday” music video and the television shows “Surviving Disaster,” “Supernanny,” “Wife Swap,” “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” “Psychic Investigators” and “The Travel Guys.”
As of May 2008, the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act boosted the state tax credit for qualified production and postproduction expenditures to 30 percent. According to Georgia’s Department of Economic Development, the tax credit is available not only to traditional motion-picture projects such as feature films, television series, commercials and music videos, but also to innovative new industries, such as game development and animation. The Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act also offers an across-the-board flat-tax credit of 20 percent based on a minimum investment of $500,000 on qualified productions in Georgia. An additional 10-percent Georgia Entertainment Promotion (GEP) uplift can be earned by including an imbedded animated Georgia logo on approved projects.
Additionally, Georgia offers a Sales & Use Tax Exemption for qualified companies, making each eligible to receive an immediate point-of-purchase sales-tax exemption that will save productions up to eight percent on most below-the-line materials and service purchases or rentals. According to the website Georgia.org, Georgia is the “largest state east of the Mississippi River [and] offers an astounding variety of landscapes to fit almost any production. Georgia’s crews are among the best and most experienced in the country, boasting more than 4,000 union and non-union professionals, along with more than 800 production suppliers and support vendors.”
Florida Governor's Office of Film & Entertainment
Georgia’s Department of Economic Development
Jacksonville Film Commission
Metro Orlando Film & Entertainment Commission
Miami/Dade County Office of Film & Entertainment
North Carolina Film Office
South Carolina Film Commission
Tampa/Hillsborough Film Commission