House committee passes bill aimed at improving filmmaking incentives

JACKSON — Mississippi legislators are hoping to raise the caps on the state’s rebate incentives for film production.

A bill that would make the change passed the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday and moved to the full House for consideration.

The state’s current film incentives apply to feature films, narrative and documentary shorts, commercials and certain types of video game production. The productions must spend a minimum of $50,000 in the state to qualify for rebates.

Under the current incentive program, productions are reimbursed 25 percent of their in-state spending, with an additional 5 percent bonus rebate on payroll costs of employees who are Mississippi residents.

The bill would leave these rebate rates untouched, but raise caps on total allowable reimbursements. A single production would be allowed a total of $10 million in reimbursements, compared with the current cap of $8 million. The state could reimburse up to $40 million in a single fiscal year, doubling the current cap.

Additionally, reimbursements to a production for the payment of a single employee, such as an actor or director, would be raised from $1 million to $5 million. That means a production paying an actor $5 million would qualify to be reimbursed for 25 percent of that amount, or $1.25 million. Any amount beyond $5 million would not be eligible for a rebate.

Ward Emling, the manager of the Mississippi Bureau of Film and Cultural Heritage, said more productions are filming in the state than ever.

“They’re coming here because of the incentive program,” Emling said.

Jackson, Biloxi, Natchez and Greenwood have all benefited. Emling is helping to scout Mississippi locations for projects set in Toms River, N.J.; Malibu, Calif., and the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington state.

During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Rep. Rita Martinson, R-Madison, said production companies want to come to Mississippi, but other states like Louisiana have more competitive incentive programs. Louisiana’s program has also created a saturated production market, according to Martinson, and producers are attracted to Mississippi’s less crowded landscape.

Mississippi’s incentive program had an important year, with “The Help” contending for several Oscars. Emling said that the film had a big impact on Greenwood, where most of it was shot in 2010.

“There’s a big ripple effect through the economy from direct and indirect spending,” Emling said. “It goes through at a pretty fast rate.”

Senate Economic Development Committee Chairman John Horhn, D-Jackson, said he would give the House bill every consideration if it survives the full House, though he would prefer a more conservative bill with lower incentive caps.

“This bill would allow us to keep up out competition with neighboring states,” Horhn said. “Our research shows that we can attract medium-budget projects if we raise our incentives somewhat. We want to see how a more conservative approach works first.”

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