Who could resist the temptation of free furniture?


The word of the day is "competitive." It's become the word in a number of places -- like North Carolina, Montana and Quebec -- who want to ensure their place in the location business.

In North Carolina, new film incentive legislation the aims to raise the tax credit from 15% to 25% passed in the Senate on Wednesday and is expected to do the same in the state House of Representatives by the end of next month.

"We're losing our market share to places like Georgia and Louisiana," North Carolina Film Office director Aaron Syrett says. "North Carolina is not at the level it once was. We're losing jobs."

What drove that point home was Georgia nabbing the shoot for Disney's new Miley Cyrus movie "The Last Song," which began shooting last week. "We thought we had it," Syrett says. "And it was a financial decision. It made a lot of people wake up here."

He describes the new scheme as fiscally sound, something that won't break the bank.

No pie in the sky

Meanwhile, Montana is getting especially creative. Its pitch? Come to Montana, where you can legally drive 75 mph to the set.

That one is definitely a new angle for a state to use to attract productions, but it's one of the things that Montana, where New Line's "My Sister's Keeper" shot at Glacier National Park, is promoting as state officials visit Los Angeles. Execs are using the Los Angeles Film Festival to trumpet their all-in-one service called Studio 406. (406 is the state's lone area code.)

Not only does the Big Sky State offer a 14% refundable tax credit based on hiring Montana labor with no cap and no minimum spend, it also has a general 9% credit for any in-state spend. But get this: The Montana Film Office promises to provide free production office furniture, plus free traffic signage, location scouting and police service.

"Send a truck and we'll load you up with office furniture," says film office exec Sten Iversen, and he's serious.

Montana knows it's not a film center like New York, and it realizes it's not like New Mexico, which is close to Los Angeles. It can't compete for productions looking for a big city look. But it's trying to remain competitive by focusing on the indie world.

"We are looking to attract films in the $5 million range, give or take a few million," Iversen says. "That is where our package makes sense."

In fact, the state is trying to brand itself as an "indie incubator," wanting to do more than just give rebates. It wants a hands-on role.

"Film commissions don't just have to be about a production guide and a tax incentive. We can be partners in production and offer more than just a department of revenue's phone number to apply for your incentive," Iversen says.

The approach is actually a self-preservation mechanism for the state's film industry. With some states engaged in a game of one-upmanship, offering headline-grabbing numbers but then placing caps or sunset clauses or even reducing the credits when times are tough, Montana is trying to maintain a program with some longevity that keeps it in the game.

"Our crew base is about two deep," Iversen acknowledges. "We want one or two (productions) at a time that want to come to Montana and want to be treated like family. Our focus is on sustainability."

Bonjour, Americans

Quebec also has unveiled changes to its incentives. The Canadian province tweaked/transformed its 25% labor-based scheme to one that is now 25% all-spend. It also added a 5% all-spend bonus for green-screen, digital, visual effects postproduction work done in the province, something that is becoming a must for those areas seeking big studio productions.

The move is designed to make the region more competitive with other jurisdictions like New York, Michigan, Louisiana, Georgia and Connecticut, according to film commissioner Hans Fraikin.

It is not aimed at the other Canadian film centers in Ontario and British Columbia, where Vancouver is really turning out to be one of the hot spots of the year, with "Tron" in production, MGM's "Hot Tub Time Machine" gearing up in a few weeks and Universal's Zac Efron-starrer "The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud" and Zack Snyder's "Super Punch" at Warners going in July.

"For more than a year, the message has been the same: Producers have been saying how much they love Montreal, its crews, its infrastructures, its restaurants," Fraikin says. "But because of the recession and liquidity crisis, they have to go where they get the best deals. In order not to lose our momentum and not to lose our infrastructure, we decided to make a move to appease producers' demands."

Montreal was a hotbed of production a couple of years ago but hasn't seen a sizable production since "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" left town. The new incentives are already having their desired effect, however, as two productions are said to be circling.
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