While officials in Georgia and Michigan are recommending killing their states’ film incentives — which are designed to lure film and television production companies to the state, usually by offering a tax break — and a number of other states have already slashed their incentive caps, Alabama is taking action to make its incentives even more accessible.
State Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, recently introduced an amendment to Alabama’s two-year-old film incentive bill that will make it easier for television productions to receive a rebate.
The current bill requires that a television series meet the $500,000 spending minimum per episode to qualify for a rebate — 35 percent of in-state labor expenses and 25 percent of production and out-of-state labor expenses, as well as an exemption of sales tax and lodging tax on $150,000 spending.
The amendment will allow for all episodes shot within 12 consecutive months to be considered as one project, making it easier for a production to meet the minimum spend.
“It corrects the language so we can accept TV series,” said Kathy Faulk, manager of the Alabama Film Office in Montgomery.
When Alabama passed its film incentive bill on March 24, 2009, the legislators who built it and other proponents of the bill hoped it would open a floodgate for film and television production companies to bring their projects into the state. But in the time since, only one film — Lifted, produced by Birmingham-based Hunter Films — has received a rebate.
The number of productions interested in filming in Alabama “hasn’t increased tremendously” since the bill passed, Faulk said, “but regulations weren’t in place until last year. We weren’t fully up and running until July of last year.”
Lifted, which was released last year, tells the story of an Alabama boy who enters a singing contest, a la American Idol. The movie, which includes appearances by country music singer Trace Adkins and Alabama native and Idol star Ruben Studdard, spent $536,000 and qualified for a rebate of $144,000, Faulk said. That’s 2.9 percent of the $5 million cap the bill instated for rebates in 2009. The cap has now increased to $10 million.
That’s not to say the bill isn’t serving its purpose. While one large production — think James Cameron’s Avatar, which cost an estimated $237,000,000, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com — would easily meet and exceed the rebate cap and leave no money for other projects, it does lend a hand to smaller productions, such as Lifted.
“The incentive bill has been a good shot in the arm for the state,” said Mark Stricklin, director of the Birmingham-Jefferson Film Office, which acts as a liaison between local governments and communities and production companies. “(Lifted) wouldn’t have been done without the incentive.”
Attempts to reach officials at Hunter Films for comment were unsuccessful.
Stricklin estimates that Lifted hired around 30 crew people and extras on top of that.
“You provide more jobs on independent (films) because they want to take advantage of the rebate,” Stricklin said. “More independent films will be the sustainability of the state. Bigger productions will bring their own crew, won’t hire as many locals. Bigger is good, but it’s not the only thing. So much is hiring local crew and growing the industry.”
Six independent feature movies were filmed in Alabama last year, according to a report released last week by the state film office. Of those films, two have applied for rebates: October Baby, filmed in Birmingham, and After, filmed in Bessemer. Those films are in post-production, so the expenditures aren’t yet finalized, but the film office estimates paying out $350,000 in rebates between the two films.
The other four films, as well as the 15 television episodes that were filmed in-state in 2010, did not qualify for rebates because they did not meet the spending minimum.
If it weren’t for Alabama’s film incentives, the movie After — a psychological thriller about a man and a woman who wake up after a bus crash to find they are the only people left in town — would never have come to the state. The script was written to be filmed in Franklin, Tenn., said writer-director Ryan Smith, but he found it difficult to get help with Tennessee’s incentive program. After scouting several locations in Alabama, he found Bessemer to be a perfect match.
“There was a lot of red tape and lack of communication in Tennessee,” said Brandon Gregory, co-producer of After, in a joint phone interview with Smith. The two are currently at CinemaCon in Las Vegas promoting the film, which will be released in theaters nationwide in the fall.
“From a smaller budget, there wasn’t a lot of information out there,” Gregory said. “That’s the polar opposite from the experience we had in Alabama.”
From scouting locations across the state to hiring local workers to helping file paperwork for the rebate, Smith and Gregory said the Alabama Film Office has been nothing but supportive.
“The communication and them being just a phone call away … holding our hand through the entire process. As a filmmaker, that’s all you can ask for,” Gregory said.
Smith estimates that 95 percent of the crew that worked on the production in Alabama were state residents, saying only two or three workers came with them from Tennessee. And while the film’s expense budget is undergoing an audit — a requirement by the state — Gregory estimates the production spent $600,000 in the state, and expects to receive a rebate of $150,000-$175,000.
But past the incentives, Gregory and Smith said the people really made the experience worthwhile.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of locations and the warm welcome from the people,” Smith said. “It worked really great for us.”
Star Entertainment Editor Deirdre Long: 256-235-3580.