|By TED CARTER
Representatives of Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and Universal have joined the Motion Picture Association of America in opposing Mississippi’s religion-based law that allows circuit court clerks, faith organizations and businesses to refuse service to gay people and others.
In response to a query Friday, the Motion Picture Association of America said of the Mississippi law, “The MPAA and its member companies oppose any law that legitimizes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”
The statement came from Vans Stevenson, MPAA’s senior VP of state government affairs.
Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and Universal referred to the statement after Yahoo Movie’s Wrap column asked for their positions on the Mississippi law.
The Wrap column theorized that unlike Georgia, where warnings from Disney and subsidiary Marvel may have influenced Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of a similar religion-focused law, the relatively small size of the movie industry in Mississippi may give production companies much less sway.
Production here over the last two years average about $30 million annually in direct spending.
While Mississippi’s feature film and television production sector may be small now, expectations had been that it would see sustained growth in the years ahead. That expectation died with Gov. Phil Bryant’s signing of House Bill 1523 on Tuesday, said Rick Moore, president of the Mississippi Film Studio in Canton.
The Magnolia State’s movie industry should brace for the worst, he said Wednesday.
Hollywood, he expects, likely will react unfavorably to Mississippi’s embrace of a law that allows refusal of service to gay people and others based on religious beliefs or moral convictions.
“It is devastating,” Moore said, predicting production studios “are going to be extremely reluctant to the point of ignoring and not considering Mississippi.”
If the stars refuse to come here, the studios won’t come, either, Moore said.
That’s especially unfortunate for Moore, who invested heavily in building the largest sound stage in the state.
He counted on a sustained upward trajectory of the state’s fledgling feature film industry he now fears could hit reverse.
“I have spent a lot of money on infrastructure, not because we have the work here right now but because of the suggestion of what we could get,” Moore said.
“It was better to be ahead of the curve. Now it doesn’t look like the ones we counted on are coming.”
Also within hours of the bill signing, Wes Benton of Sun & Sand Film told WLOX News in Biloxi that several projects that were planned to be filmed in Mississippi are now going to be shot elsewhere.
Benton said those project leaders made the decision to not film in Mississippi after Bryant signed the “Freedom of Conscience” bill, WLOX reported.
In a further comment to WLOX, Benton said, “I just don’t think that everyone looked at this and what the consequences would be and not just for the film industry. I understand both sides of it but the consequences are going to be devastating for the film industry in Mississippi.”
The timing of the bill’s signing and the worries it presents for Mississippi’s future as a film venue are especially unfortunate, said Moore, citing last Friday’s ribbon cutting in Canton for Hollywood Trucks.
The New Orleans-based Hollywood Trucks in October 2014 signed an exclusive 5-year deal to provide production vehicles to Moore’s Mississippi Film Studios.
Hollywood Trucks’ deal also includes its Hollywood Rentals operation, which serves as a single source for the array of equipment film productions require, including lighting for Moore’s sound stage. Hollywood Trucks’ Expendable Supply Store is included as well. The store is a hardware supplier of sorts for film productions.
Moore said he has already had a decidedly downcast conversation with the owner of Hollywood Trucks and Hollywood Rentals. “Everything I promised them is kind” of up in the air for now, Moore said.
He said he nonetheless is going to continue to push hard to help develop the state’s feature film sector and to make his own low-cost films.
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