Mississippi is having a great year when it comes to film productions. Two movies have already been filmed in the state this year, and currently three more productions are underway.
“This is kind of an amazing year because we have had two already, one called My Dog Skip filmed in Canton and Cookie`s Fortune filmed in Holly Springs,” said Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Film Office. “And this week for the first time in the history of Mississippi we`ll have three things filming at the same time. It`s a pretty exciting year.”
Al Pacino will be starring in a film about the state`s successful lawsuits against the tobacco industry regarding reimbursement for health costs incurred to treat smoking-related illnesses. The production, which is yet untitled, has brought in 100 to 150 film crew members to Pascagoula and is expected to use about 1,000 local extras.
Also currently under production is the movie Red Dirt, now filming in Meridian. And three episodes of the CBS series the Promised Land starring Mississippi native Gerald McRaney are being produced in the Natchez area.
Emling said it isn`t possible to predict the economic impact of a film production until after filming is complete. But the largest production, the tobacco movie, is a little larger than the John Grisham film A Time to Kill in terms of budget. That production spent about $250,000 per week during filming.
Emling said the film projects this year all had some kind of tie-in to the state. They were either written by a Mississippian or, as in the case with the tobacco movie, depicted important events the occurred in the state.
The film Cookie`s Fortune, which was written by a Mississippian, was directed by Robert Altman. Altman directed a film 25 years ago called Thieves Like Us which was the catalyst for Mississippi starting a film office as part of the tourism division of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development.
My Dog Skip is based on a book by Mississippi author Willie Morris. And Emling said Gerald McRaney, a native of Collins, has been trying to come back to work in Mississippi for a couple of years.
“That`s the kind of thing that makes it exciting, people coming back to Mississippi and using Mississippi in their film projects,” Emling said. “My Dog Skip and Cookie`s Fortune are just two terrific scripts about people in Mississippi. And the movie down there in Pascagoula is about a positive event where Mississippi was the first to step up and do something.”
Connie Moran, executive director of Jackson County Economic Development, said the county will be getting some long-term benefits from the film production. The movie company has leased some space in the county-owned Heinz building for set construction and a wardrobe area.
“For the lawyer`s office scenes they are completely refurbishing a portion of the office building that has a view of the Port of Pascagoula and the Pascagoula River through the window,” Moran said. “So we also get an enhancement to our building. About a hundred hotel rooms have been rented for the film crews. Most of the film crews arrived several weeks ago and will be here at least through the end of this month.”
In addition to local expenditures for hotel rooms and food, the film crews have been taking advantage of local charter fishing trips.
“The construction crews like to go fishing, and so have hooked up with charter fishing boats,” Moran said. “They also like the local restaurants, so they are enjoying their visit here. They ride on bicycles all over the place because it is the easiest way for them to get around.”
Eight days of filming are planned in Pascagoula. Other scenes will be filmed in Mobile, Kentucky and other areas.
Moran said the movie will portray Pascagoula in a positive light.
“In fact, the attorneys and Mike Moore, in this case, will cast a very positive light on their hometown Pascagoula because they charged ahead with this case winning billions of dollars to be returned to the state,” Moran said. “And they got the bandwagon rolling for other states, too, so to speak.”
Moran said some people may not be pleased because the movie could be considered to give the perception of an anti-business climate.
“And certainly that is the last thing Jackson County is,” she said. “We are the most industrialized county in the state, and are very proud of our pro-business climate that is embraced by all of our elected officials and community leaders.”
The movie is the story of tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigland, who gave testimony in the tobacco lawsuit that led to a settlement awarding large damages to Mississippi and eventually a large number of other states. The story actually centers more on media coverage of the issue than on the legal battle. Al Pacino plays not an attorney, but a reporter.