Mississippi: The New Promised Land For Indie Filmmakers?

Mississippi aims to compete with the likes of Georgia and Louisiana through increased cash rebate packages to attract new films to the Deep South.

We know the story of Mississippi through the works of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, and through films such as O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Help and Django Unchained.

But if the Mississippi Film Office has anything to say about it, Mississippi is set to play a leading role in indie stories that come from across the United States.

As more states entice film shoots with the promise of tax credits – and convince locals it is a good economic development play –  Mississippi’s Governor Bryant has restructured its tax incentive program for all film productions over $50,000. On top of the 30% payroll rebate for Mississippi residents, certain productions companies are now entitled to a 25% rebate for non-residents on their payroll. Further tax breaks are available based on hiring Mississippi veterans and an additional 25% investment rebate on dollars spent in local businesses. Commercials, TV shows and streaming movies are all eligible for the rebate program, according to the Mississippi Film Office’s website.

Mississippi’s $50,000 minimum spend, compared to Georgia’s $500,000 minimum spend, means many more ultra-low budgets indies can quaility for the cash rebate, emphasis on cash rebate. No navigating the tax laws and paying broker fees – Mississippi sends filmmakers a check in the mail, within 90 days of sending in all required paperwork, for 25% to 35% of their qualified spending.

Attracting films to the Magnolia State

The Deep South is no stranger to the indie film industry, as Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and even Tennessee have accounted for an increasingly large portion of feature film locations in the last decade. But as politics, tax incentives, and the overall economic landscape shift, there is no sure ‘promised land’ for up-and-coming filmmakers to set up shop.

But even with the uncertainty, places like Mississippi are working to stake their claim in the unique filming locations for the Southeast.

Image from the Mississippi Arts Commission showcasing the unique geography of the state.

The Mississippi Film Office, located in Jackson, wants filmmakers to know about the diverse locations awarded throughout the state. These include the famous plantations along the Delta, beach properties around the Gulf Coast, and eastern pine area, which is home to everything from swampland to untouched riverways to historical Antebellum structures.

The Great State Tax Debate

Whether or not tax incentives are the best way to attract film talent to a state is still hotly contested. Part of the issue is whether or not a state can support such productions with local crew (often a pre-requisite for a film to receive full tax refunds). Mississippi appears to be working hard to bolster its pool of qualified in-state crew, as seen through several new production groups and alliances that have popped up to support those looking to get into the film industry. The state also supports several film festivals, like this June’s Festival South Film Festival, which particularly highlights local works of cinema.

It’s also important to note that the state capital, Jackson, is an hour flight – or 5-hour drive – from Atlanta, and a 3-hour drive from New Orleans, making it accessible for out-of-state crews as well.

Canton, Mississippi has been home to several large productions over the past decade.

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