More than 200 investors, producers, actors, crew members and tourism professionals attended the recent Mississippi Film Summit held at the Hinds Community College Rankin Campus to learn about funding film projects and building Mississippi’s film industry infrastructure.
Since the Legislature’s approval of an enhanced Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive, the state has one of the best incentive programs in the country and is readying to compete with states like Georgia and Louisiana, both of which have film industries of more than $1 billion annually.
Tips for investors
Mississippi’s incentive program, which offers a 25 percent cash rebate on local spend and out-of-state payroll, as well as a 30 percent rebate on in-state payroll, is something investors can take to the bank, said panelist Shawnassey Howell Britt, an entertainment lawyer with Jackson’s Frascogna Courtney, PLLC. The 25 percent rebate can become collateral for a loan, Britt said.
A minimum spend of $50,000 is required for the incentive, and rebates are capped at $8 million per project.
In the current economy, rarely does one investor fund an entire project, and piecing together funding and investors is more common.
As Hudson Hickman, a New Albany native and former TV producer for MGM Studios, said, there is not a Yellow Pages listing for film financing. Hudson wants to shoot a project in Flora.
Filmmakers also discussed crowd sourcing, or the use of free web sites like Kickstarter.com, where small amounts of money can be raised from a vast audience.
Melanie Addington of the Oxford Film Festival said the feature she produced and co-wrote, “Where I Begin,” raised more than $8,000 on a crowd sourcing web site. But Addington cautioned that such sites require a significant amount of legwork and have financial repercussions for funding goals not reached within a certain time period.
Producers also stressed the importance of contracts. Britt said hand-shake deals are heart attacks for entertainment lawyers. Even when accepting free services from friends, conditions should always be put in writing.
Mississippi has unique locations, but the state’s new film incentive alone is not enough to attract filmmakers due to inconvenience factors, such as lack of direct flights from California and a low local crew base, panelists said. Additional incentives within a city – such as restaurant and hotel packages and rental discounts – can make a big difference, since producers respond to money.
“It’s not enough for Natchez to go to a location expo with a DVD,” said Jennifer Ogden, a Natchez native with 37 years of producing experience in New York and Los Angeles. Ogden is trying to bring the filming of a series of popular children’s books to Mississippi.
Attendee Bill Crump, chair of Greenwood-Leflore Carroll Economic Development Foundation and governmental affairs director at Viking Range Corp., said additional incentives were key in attracting the DreamWorks Studios picture “The Help,” which had a $27-million budget and a $15-million impact on Greenwood.
“We treated the movie as an economic development project. The economic development foundation put together a private funding package with some of our regular economic development partners,” he said. Hotel deals, office space and a cash payment for rentals gave Greenwood an edge over Shreveport, La., a popular city for film making.
States like Louisiana also have an edge on Mississippi because they have a number of trained crew members – those with technical skills for lighting, sound production and other needs – who live in the state. Producers are not fond of high transportation and housing costs needed to bring in out-of-state assistance that take away from “dollars on the screen.”
Red Planet Entertainment producer Wes Benton, a Jackson native and 30-year industry veteran, favors recruiting a steady stream of low-budget films to the Magnolia State.
“The Help” has done a lot to bring visibility to the state, Benton said, but in the future he would like to see 12 films a year, for example, each with budgets of $1 million, which would allow a local crew base to develop and find steady work in Mississippi.