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Filmmaking rebate requires ‘roots’ in Mississippi

By JACK WEATHERLY

A key incentive in the state’s film industry was allowed to expire two years ago after research by a legislative committee showed that 51 cents of every taxpayer dollar produced only 49 cents.

In other words, it was investment loser. So the rebate of 25 percent on payroll for out-of-state cast and crew was allowed to sunset on July 1, 2017.

As a result, the industry cratered.

But the Legislature overwhelmingly passed a measure in this year’s session to restore the incentive – with an emphasis on Mississippi-based companies.

The incentive could mean a far greater benefit to those film companies because it would include up to 25 percent of the “base investment,” which could be as much as $5 million, including pay and fringe benefits.

Under the provisions of Senate Bill 2603, which was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on Monday, out-of-state production companies would have to “at least affiliate with Mississippi-based companies,” according to Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Dist. 41, the primary author of the measure.

SB 2603 requires that a state-certified production company has roots in the state to qualify for the rebate.

It must have filed state income taxes in Mississippi in the previous three years and have engaged in making at least two motion pictures in Mississippi in the previous decade.

A report from the Joint Legislative Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, or PEER, in early 2015 stated that for every tax dollar spent on filmmaking in the state only 49 cents was realized.

Without that rebate, payroll for Mississippians fell to $1.3 million in 2018 from $6.6 million in 2016, according to Emling.

Fifteen feature films were made in the state in 2016, but last year the number dwindled to four, and in-state employment in the industry dropped 33 percent, from 900 in 2016 to 600 last year, according to the Institutions of Higher Learning.

There is no sunset provision in SB 2603, which took effect with the governor’s signature, which doesn’t preclude lawmakers from later adding a sunset date, Fillingane said.

Ward Emling, former longtime director of the state Film Office, recently reiterated that the PEER report released in 2015 was based on “incomplete and inaccurate information.”

“To determine the impact of a nontraditional [e.g., filmmaking] industry by using traditional economic models” is flawed, Emling said.

“The Help,” which was released in 2011 and made in Mississippi, served for the Film Office as a study for movie making in the state before the state’s film infrastructure had matured under the incentives program, which was established in 2004.

The return on every dollar invested in that movie realized a return of 56 cents on the dollar. Emling said. And that does not include the ripple effect of spending by cast and crew in the communities, as well as impact on tourism.

Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Dist. 14, said that she had heard that $15 million was spent in Greenwood, a prime shooting site for “The Help.”

Mississippi native and director Tate Taylor said the hard thing was getting black actresses to come to the Magnolia State for the movie, Chassaniol said in an interview.

“They had heard so many bad things about Mississippi, they didn’t want to come. They got here and found out the truth of it is they were welcome in everybody’s home. Everybody wanted entertain them. They all want to come back,” said Chassaniol, chairwoman of the Senate Tourism Committee.

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