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New incentives enhance film industry opportunities in state

JACKSON – Legislation aimed at enhancing Mississippi`s growing presence in the film industry received a unanimous vote in both the House of Representatives and Senate on May 2. The Motion Picture Incentive Act now goes to Gov. Haley Barbour for signature to become law, effective July 1.

One of the conferees, Rep. Mark Formby of Picayune, said, “It`s a good deal, a good idea. Any incentives we can give to bring business that creates work for people is good.”

Included in the act are incentives for a rebate on local expenditures, reduction on machinery used, tax credit on local payroll and tax exemption of the component materials used. Motion picture companies will file papers with the State Tax Commission to qualify for the incentives.

Rep. Diane Peranich of DeLisle, chairman of the tourism committee, said the tax rebates do not occur until companies come and spend money here.

“They are not given money to come. They have to spend it first to get the rebates,” she said. “It`s a win-win situation for us.”

She says the measure is fail safe for the taxpayers of the state because the incentives are rebates as opposed to tax credits.

“I’m delighted with the opportunities to expand the film industry for the tax payers and talented Mississippians,” she added. “Our sister states have been sites for a lot of film activity, and now we will be able to steal the march.”

She said an amendment was added to prohibit the incentives from being used for pornographic filmmaking. The act spells out that “motion picture” means a nationally distributed feature-length film, video, television series or commercial made in Mississippi, in whole or in part, for theatrical or television viewing or as a television pilot.

Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Development Authority`s film office, says economic incentives are the way of the world, and now the state will be globally competitive. “This is a great bill with great benefits that make us instantly competitive,” he said. “We will be equally attractive to in- and out-of-state filmmakers. These incentives will help us develop and grow.”

He praised the work of Rep. Formby and Sen. Tommy Robertson, who presented the bill to their respective sides of the Legislature and guided it through the process.

Beth Carriere, president of the Mississippi Tourism Association (MTA), said her organization has been involved in this legislation for what it can mean to the tourism industry. The importance of the film industry hit close to home when Louisiana passed an incentive package and started reaping the benefits.

“Movies are a wonderful promotion for the state once the film is done,” she said. “Movies have a following, and people will go see places that appear in movies.”

Emling said the impact of a film is amazingly pervasive in a community and that it creates tourism opportunities. “That`s why so many film offices are located in tourism offices,” he said.

Donna Mabus, a Jackson lobbyist who has worked for the MTA for eight years, pointed out that New Zealand has had more than a 25% increase in tourism since “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was filmed there.

“I am absolutely pleased with the results, the positive reaction and cooperation we had with this bill,” she said. “After the presentation was made, a whole bunch of legislators joined as sponsors. I think everybody recognized that Mississippi has people and locations tailor-made for movies. The one key ingredient we lacked was some kind of incentive.”

MDA`s film office was started as a part of the tourism division devoted to recruiting the film industry to the state. Emling, who has worked in the industry, sees himself as an economic developer like many other people under the MDA umbrella.

“Everything I do is exactly what other developers do,” he said. “Economic developers are looking at quality of life, transportation, access to airports and the workforce – the same things we look at as film commissioners.”

A production that locates in the state spends money with hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, security companies and office and automobile suppliers. State residents can expect to find work as actors and extras and on the technical crew and office staff. Emling said the productions train people, too. A complete audited accounting of all production expenditures are reported to the State Tax Commission for validation, then the state issues a tax rebate based on 10% of the audited production expenditures.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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