Flowing Like a River

There's money to be had for filmmakers in Mississippi

Inventing the right kind of film incentive system for Mississippi has been a nearly two-decades-long process. And it started, according to Mississippi Film Office director Ward Emling, by taking out the word "film" altogether.

"We had to convince people that this was a real industry, in that it worked like any other industry," he says. "Once we had successfully defined filmmakers as manufacturers, we got them some credits in the late 1990s and early 2000s."

That wasn't quite enough, and even when the first incentive program popped up in 2004 -- a flat 10% credit on state resident payroll and 10% rebate on local spend -- it wasn't quite right.

Emling thinks that after years of tinkering, they have the right formula now. The Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive Program now has a maximum rebate of $8 million per project, and starts with just a $20,000 local investment.

"We very willfully kept the local spend as low as we possibly could, because we wanted our local producers and filmmakers to see some benefit from this," Emling says.

What a production can expect from the incentive is a 20% rebate on the base local spend, with a 25% rebate on payroll when local workers are used who are subject to state income tax withholding (20% on out-of-state workers). The program has a $20 million annual cap.

For now, that cap is not in danger of being used up, says Emling, who is pleased to see local productions getting the benefits. "It was a happy surprise to see that local producers can use it as much as they have," he adds.

As for nonlocal production, it's still kind of wait-and-see. "We have been getting a lot more scripts," he says, "and we know those films have been scouting. I feel pretty certain those films will come to Mississippi when they get their casts or budgets together."