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Wednesday, 08 April 2009 15:09

Straight Through the Heart of the Midwest

Written by  Jennifer Marino
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The Midwest’s Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois are components of the great American heartland. This region provides backdrops ranging from prairies to skyscrapers, and it has plenty of incentives so it won’t break your heart (or wallet)...

On the set of Sugar in Iowa Photo courtesy of Iowa Film Office




The Midwest’s Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois are components of the great American heartland. This region provides backdrops ranging from prairies to skyscrapers, and it has plenty of incentives so it won’t break your heart (or wallet).



            Iowa offers a transferable income-tax credit of 25 percent of qualified in-state expenditures for both investors and production companies. An investor and producer of the same project can utilize the tax credit –– the investor would receive a 25-percent tax credit in addition to the production’s 25-percent credit.

            To add to these deep savings, there are no caps, and Iowa offers 100-percent income exclusion to Iowa-based companies or Iowa residents for income earned from certified projects. There are no state permits nor permitting fees, there are no fees for shooting on state property nor in parks and hotel tax is waived after 30 consecutive days of occupancy. A $100,000-minimum spend is required in order to take advantage of this incentive, and distribution must reach beyond the Midwest region.

            Tom Wheeler, manager of the Iowa Film Office, gladly reports that Iowa’s incentive program has generated considerable interest in shooting in the state. “The 2009 season is shaping up to be our best ever,” he says. “Filmmakers have always known that they will get maximum results from Iowa’s crew, and now our incentive program is giving us an excellent opportunity to show off our crew’s abilities. It doesn’t hurt that we have considerably more variety in our landscapes than what filmmakers imagine before they visit.”

            “The [Greater] Des Moines [CVB] Film Commission was instrumental in helping us scout for and secure shooting locations,” says Brian Bell, line producer of the feature film Peacock, starring Susan Sarandon and Ellen Page. Bell recommends Iowa as a viable filming destination to other non-Midwestern filmmakers. “While Peacock wasn’t technically a guinea pig for the state’s program, we were trailblazers in a number of respects,” he observes. “Most notably, I believe we were the first union film of our budget size coming in from out of state. The union aspect of our film was, I think, one of the biggest hurdles we encountered. This resulted partially from the fact that there is no consolidated [IATSE] Studio Mechanics local in Iowa.”

            Bell, whose production benefited from Iowa’s incentives, feels that offering a 50-percent credit to productions is “plenty kind.” “Although producers will always push and push for more and more, I think that with such an aggressive credit you don't need to offer anything more,” he adds.


Indianapolis, Ind. Photo courtesy of Film Indiana            Capped at $5 million, the Media Production Expenditure Tax Credit (MPETC) is a refundable tax credit of up to 15 percent of qualified investment in a qualified media production project. 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 is set at $100,000 for features, shorts, documentaries and television series or programs.

            According to Film Indiana, the minimum spend is set at $50,000 for a digital media production that is intended for reasonable commercial exploitation; an audio recording or music video; an advertisement message broadcast on radio or television; a media production concerning training; or external marketing or communications.

Film Indiana boasts fee-free and low-cost locations, and if accommodations exceed 30 days, the lodging and sales taxes are waived. They assist with location scouting and permits, and can provide filmmakers with the sources needed for their production goals.

            Recent Indiana productions include the Michael Mann film Public Enemies and “The Shift,” a reality series based on the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.


Joey Culbertson and Winter Fox Frank in The Only Good Indian Photo courtesy of Tyler CarmodyKansas offers a 30-percent non-refundable, non-transferable film-production tax credit of direct production expenditures made in Kansas for a particular project. This incentive is capped at a total annual amount of $2 million.

            Some examples of direct expenditures include the wages for Kansas’s residents; rentals of production facilities and equipment; food and lodging. There’s also no hotel occupancy tax for stays that exceed 28 days.

            As approved by the Department of Commerce, this incentive is available to film, video, commercial or television productions in which the project is 30 minutes or less in length with an expected in-state expenditure budget that exceeds $50,000, or that is over 30 minutes with an expected in-state expenditure budget that exceeds $100,000.

            Based in Lawrence, Kan., Through a Glass Productions offers production services while specializing in film and HD video production, producing, and content creation. The company is comprised of Jeremy Osbern (primarily director/director of photography), Chris Blunk (producer, sound supervisor) and Steve Deaver (post-production supervisor) but there are additional freelancers for certain projects. Along with working on music videos and other projects, they’ve done dozens of features and hundreds of commercials in the past four years.

            “Our most recent project was a music video for The Dylan Paul Band,” says Osbern, who started the company in 2004 with Blunk. “We shot with our RED ONE camera package, and built a set in the warehouse space adjacent to our studio during three days of pre-production and construction.”

            Osbern and Cinematographer Matt Jacobson shot the film The Only Good Indian on 35mm film. The feature was directed by Sundance veteran Kevin Willmott (C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America) and premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

“The film was shot entirely in Kansas, and covered every corner of the state,” says Osbern. “The Only Good Indian, a period piece set in 1905, showed off the natural beauty of the state, and three weeks of the 40-day shoot was spent in the Flint Hills prairie. Through A Glass Productions provided both crew and support to the project. [The Kansas landscape has] rolling prairies, giant bluffs and hundreds upon hundreds of lakes surrounded by woods. Not to mention the big, beautiful skies and some of the most amazing sunsets you've ever seen. As a director of photography, there’s a lot to work with.”
The state’s Cimarron National Grasslands and Smoky Hills also make for a rural paradise. It’s no wonder Dorothy wanted to return home.


            Missouri’s film-production tax-credit program is capped at $4.5 million. A qualified film-production company may receive up to 35 percent of the amount expended in Missouri (or up to 30 percent for qualifying out-of-state cast and crew when Missouri income taxes are withheld) for production or production-related activities. The minimum in-state spend must be at least $100,000 for films more than 30 minutes in length, and at least $50,000 for films less than 30 minutes in length.

            Local film permits are not normally required in Missouri. However, permits are generally required for filming in national parks, forests, recreational areas and monuments. Many publicly and privately owned locations do not require a location fee, but do require advance permission and proof of insurance.

            The Missouri Film Office assists with location scouting and provides productions with photographs and videos. “Our incentive began in 1999, and virtually all feature films produced here since then have been a direct result of the incentive,” says Jerry Jones, director of the Missouri Film Office. “We have crew bases and large airports in several parts of the state, [namely] Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield/Branson. The cost of doing business –– lodging, supplies, fuel, etc. –– is lower, and our central location is an easy flight from either coast.”

            Patti Broyles Watkins has served as the director of the Kansas City Film Office for the last 10 years. She informs me that there is no longer an actual film office in Kansas City, but rather a film commission board. “We do not have any current city incentives to add to our state incentives, however our area is very film friendly and our location fees are reasonable,” says Watkins. “We do not require film permits. Kansas City has a wide variety of locations, both rural, small-town and big-city, with many available historical buildings restored and available for shooting, [all] within a one-hour radius of the Kansas City International Airport.”

Currently, several television commercials are being shot in Missouri, along with the independent feature Winter’s Bone and Paramount PicturesUp in the Air, starring George Clooney.


            Infamous for being a playpen for some of the most notorious criminals in history, political or otherwise, Chicago just can’t seem to kick its reputation. History’s latest repeat performance happened this past December when former Governor Blagojevich was charged and arrested for federal corruption. And just as Capone will be forever be remembered for his role in the volatile Prohibition Era, Blagojevich too is certain to be remembered as leaving his mark on history, albeit for reasons unrelated to the film industry.

Nonetheless, on December 15, 2008 the former governor signed the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit, which took effect on January 1, 2009. The new law increases the tax credit from 20 to 30 percent on all local spending, and has no expiration date.

The 30-percent transferable tax credit on all qualifying expenditures includes labor, rentals, leases, purchases, services, housing and other qualified items. There is 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 29 minutes or less, or $100,000 in Illinois for a project that exceeds 30 minutes. Production companies must also be willing to promote diversity by making an effort to hire a percentage of local minorities.

            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 high unemployment, as determined by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. 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.

            The program is applicable to all phases (pre-production, production and post-production) of feature films, movies for television, television series and commercials.

            Director of the Chicago Film Office, Richard Moskal, is optimistic that the new and improved Illinois incentive will show beneficial results. “Chicago’s combined assets of talent, aesthetics, cost-effectiveness and cooperation are what make us desirable in the eyes of producers,” says Moskal. “Overall, we offer a high-quality production value. Chicago’s look is distinctive and exceptionally cinematic by way of its architecture, expanse of lakefront and rich texture of neighborhoods … and the state of Illinois’ 30-percent tax credit delivers all of this at a competitive cost.”      

Another Chicago perk is the city’s deep and experienced crew base, which, according to Moskal, is deep enough to crew three to four features at one time. Current productions shot in Chicago include the feature films Public Enemies, The Unborn and Nothing Like the Holidays, and the television series “The Beast” and “ER.”

Chicago Film Office

Film Indiana

Greater Des Moines CVB Film Commission

Missouri Film Commission



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