Tennessee needs to roll out red carpet for filmmakers

Robert Houk • May 14, 2012 at 9:09 AM

They just don’t make movies like they used to, and they certainly aren’t making them here in Tennessee. Officials in neighboring North Carolina and Georgia are recording more success than Tennessee in luring filmmakers to their states.

In attempt to make the state more competitive, Tennessee began a $10 million program in 2007 to attract movie makers to the Volunteer State. Despite offering what was then considered to be generous incentives, Tennessee has continued to lose out on some lucrative Hollywood deals.

The latest was the $25 million remake of “Footloose” by writer/director Craig Brewer, who filmed two of his earlier films (“Hustle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan”) in Memphis, where he lived most of his childhood. Brewer couldn’t resist a $1.5 million incentive package offered by Georgia.

By comparison, Tennessee offers rebates equal to 13 percent of the production’s “below the line” costs for projects of $500,000 or more. If 25 percent of the production’s cast and crew are hired in Tennessee, an additional 2 percent rebate is available.

Production companies based in Tennessee also can claim rebates for projects with an in-state budget of at least $200,000. The state also promises a competitive grant application system for filmmakers based in Tennessee of up to $40,000.

Companies that establish a permanent headquarters in Tennessee and incur a minimum of $1 million in qualified instate expenses will be eligible for a 15 percent refund.

State officials recently agreed to sweeten the pot. The Memphis Business Journal reported last week the Tennessee Film Entertainment and Music Commission is anticipating an extra $2 million for the state’s film incentive program as a result of changes in the funding formula.

Financial sweeteners are important in luring filmmakers to the state. The motion picture business is just that — a very big business. And like any other business during these tight economic times, its practitioners are looking to get the biggest bang for their bucks.

It’s a different climate than that of the not-so-distant past when our scenic lakes, rivers and mountains were enough to lure filmmakers to Tennessee. Northeast Tennessee experienced a bit of success in that regard during the 1980s. Most of “The River,” a 1984 film starring Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek, was shot on the Holston River in Hawkins County.

In 1988, filmmakers made historic Jonesborough the backdrop for the Disney Channel movie, “Goodbye, Miss 4th of July.” Roan Mountain was a location for a Kurt Russell movie, “Winter People,” released in 1989.

I hope directors like Quentin Tarantino will keep our region in mind when they are scouting film locations for their next productions. Tarantino — who directed such hits as “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds” — was born in Knoxville, but grew up in California. He could reconnect with his East Tennessee roots by bringing a production crew to the area. I’m sure the locals will be willing to roll out the red carpet for a little bit of that Hollywood dough.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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