- Category: Location News
- Published on Monday, 02 July 2012 10:40
- Written by Nathan Hoturoa Gray
Filmmakers are constantly searching for unique and authentic locations that also fulfill their artistic expression. The Southeast Central Region offers all this on a platter along with many other worthwhile perks for film and television projects. P3 Update gets up close and personal with the states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas to see how they’ve grown while facing production challenges in 2012.
Tennessee offers an experience that is rich in history, immersing cast and crew in an environment with sublime views and untouched landscapes. The region is made up of three distinct topographical regions that offer a wide array of location possibilities. Western Tennessee is blessed with its delta and plains while Middle Tennessee is blanketed by gently rolling hills, and Eastern Tennessee provides access to the foothills and majestic peaks of the Smoky Mountains. Each region offers major cities that are home to experienced, professional crews, equipment houses and film-friendly support services, such as hotels and hardware stores. Tried and tested, Tennessee is a truly great place to shoot, boasting a great list of films that extend all the way to 1923, including Water for Elephants, Walk the Line, Country Strong, Cast Away, In the Valley of Elah, The Green Mile, The People vs. Larry Flint, The Firm and The Silence of the Lambs.
According to the Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission, the state offers two incentives: the 17-percent Film & Television Production Incentive and 15-percent Headquarters Refund. To qualify for the Film & Television Production Incentive plan, production companies based outside of Tennessee must spend at least $500,000 per production or per episode ($150,000 for in-state companies). The Headquarters Refund requires a minimum spend of $1 million and out-of-state companies can partner up with a Tennessee headquarter company in order to access the program. Recent film shoots in Tennessee include Hannah Montana: The Movie, and upcoming productions include a film about country-music artist Hank Williams and Brian Helgeland’s 42, the biopic of baseball legend Jackie Robinson that will shoot in Chattanooga.
Producer/Director Curt Hahn shot the recently released feature Deadline (featuring Eric Roberts) in Tennessee. Based on a true story, the film focuses on the murder of an African American youth in rural Alabama that has gone uninvestigated for almost 20 years. Hahn found it very rewarding to shoot in Tennessee, and he highlights the state’s incentives and wealth of talent, particularly its outstanding cast and crews. “We compared various incentive programs in different states, but found that Tennessee’s were the best for Deadline, since the state is the only place that will incentivize P&A spending,” reports Hahn. “Since we’re providing our own P&A funding for its release, this made Tennessee the perfect place to shoot, edit and distribute the film. Tennessee’s incentives are among the smartest, since to access the full range of incentives a producer must be headquartered in Tennessee. That helps build the local industry, as opposed to merely enticing out-of-state film producers to come shoot in a region and then leave as soon as the shoot wraps, which seems to be the way most states do it.”
Arkansas is ideally suited to be a filmmaker’s dream. The state offers a vast range of location options that would boggle the minds of experienced world travelers. Its scenic locales range from whitewater streams and majestic waterfalls to sprawling prairies and wooded mountains, while the east is home to abundant rural settings complete with historic delta towns and bustling river ports. While the towns and cities contain period architecture and sleek, modern structures, the south has a location scout`s wish list of swamplands, rolling farmland and pine forests covering the Ouachita mountain range. And the stunning Ozark Mountains in the northwestern part of the state are visually similar to the Appalachians and Smokies.
The Digital Product and Motion Picture Industry Development Act of 2009 provides rebates of 15 percent of qualified costs in connection with the production of a state-certified film project and an additional 10 percent of the payroll of below-the-line employees who are full-time residents of Arkansas. And with the help of the Arkansas Film Commission, the state is a natural fit for all types of productions. Arkansas has hosted many memorable films to date, including October Baby, The Firm, Biloxi Blues, Sling Blade, Under Siege and the classic Gone with the Wind.
Stuttgart, known as the duck hunting capital of the world, became home base for Mud, the latest feature by acclaimed Filmmaker Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter). Starring Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey and Michael Shannon, Mud is a “modern-day Huck Finn” tale about an unlikely friendship between a fugitive and two teenage boys who help him to escape from an island in Mississippi, evade the law and bounty hunters, and reunite him with his sweetheart. “Mud is the third [movie] to be filmed in the state this year,” reports Christopher Crane of the Arkansas Film Commission. Other films recently shot in Arkansas include 45 RPM and Derrick Sims’ Come Morning (filmed primarily in Cleburne County).
Embracing Sims’ South Arkansas roots, Come Morning tells the story of a man, his grandson and the hunting accident that changes their lives. “When I wrote Come Morning in 2009, I always imagined it taking place in the forests where I grew up,” Sims recalls. “The idea of the hunt and the two lead characters are loosely based off of my grandfather and the hunts we went on when I was a kid. Sure, we could have shot in northern Louisiana or southern Missouri, but I always wanted the movie to be and feel Arkansan. For me, that meant I could shoot it nowhere else but there. Though I live in L.A., I still have an affinity for the south and the particular area where I grew up. It’s nostalgic, oddly romantic and sort of the epitome of early 20th-century Americana. It’s the kind of place that a lot of people I meet don’t believe exists anymore, and I wanted to bring that sort of feel to the screen.” Sims is hugely complimentary of the location options on offer in Arkansas. “Outside of Arkansas, I find many people don’t realize how beautiful the state is,” he says. “Geographically, it is quite distinct with mountains in the north and west, the delta all along the eastern border, and then there’s the area south of Little Rock, where I come from. It’s covered in forests, lakes, and rivers.”
Kentucky’s disparate locations continue to draw filmmakers and classic films like Rain Man, The Insider, Stripes, U.S. Marshals and Goldfinger. Only a one-hour plane ride away from two-thirds of the U.S., the state’s long list of locales include rivers, mountain ranges, caves, farmlands, race tracks and old country churches. Kentucky also has highly trained crews; services from the Kentucky Film Office that operate 24/7; and production facilities on stand-by to assist all incoming film and TV projects. The state’s versatile weather ranges from hot to cold with sunshine, rain, wind and snow (sometimes all on the same day), and Kentucky offers an aggressive package of tax incentives that can help greenlight productions wanting to stake out this particular slice of the Americana pie.
Qualified productions now have the option of taking advantage of either the current sales-tax refund incentive or a newly created incentive, which is a refundable income-tax credit of up to 20 percent of approved expenditures. Film production incentives are available to companies that spend at least $500,000 to produce feature films or television shows in Kentucky, while commercials require a $200,000 spend and documentaries require $50,000. Recent features to utilize Kentucky’s incentives include 23 Blast, The Ides of March, Secretariat and Seabiscuit.
Kentucky-raised Producer Scott Stafford recently shot Bizarnival: Tuxedos in the Attic in his home state, and he found it to be a prime location for his pseudo-experimental short film. “There’s definitely a lot to see here,” reports Stafford. “Plenty of scenery and especially exteriors you cannot find anywhere else. And there are great people here and great talent as well.” Stafford is so convinced Kentucky is perfect for filmmaking that he has no desire to ever run away to Hollywood. “At one time, I had thought about [moving to Los Angeles], going to grad school and a film school, but it’s just not my personality,” Stafford states. “I think there’s a lot to be said about going out there, but if you’re good enough I don’t think you necessarily have to.”
With its excellent mix of locations, tax incentive programs and crew expertise, the Southeast Central Region of the U.S. continues to roll out large and small productions. Its current success is a good example of how governmental resources can boost the creative industries to the benefit of everyone involved.