“I’m making a low-budget indie film and my screenplay calls for a hospital but everyone I call tells me I can’t shoot there because of privacy issues. Now what?”
“I want to shoot downtown but someone told me I need a permit. Who do I call?”
“I’ve raised half a million bucks to shoot my film. How do I stretch every dollar without taking advantage of my crew?”
These are just some of the types of questions you might pose to a State film office. Every State in the USA has one.
It wasn’t much more than a decade ago that most film offices outside of New York and California were simple extensions of the tourism office. As such they often had ideas for locations that filmmakers might not have thought about. My first call to the Virginia Film Office was the hospital question above. They suggested a medical teaching facility in our shooting area. We shot there during their “off days” and the footage worked great. Since that call I’ve made more than a few more about locations – – stadiums, sports field, schools, State Parks, historical homes – – the folks at the film office are always helpful.
In 1997 the government of Canada introduced the Production Services Tax Credit program. Presumably instituted to help Canadian filmmakers the incentive quickly caught the attention of Hollywood where producers discovered they could stretch their budgets even further by moving their shoots to Canada. The program drew enough production that California noticed the drop in local production. A 1999 study by The Monitor Group estimated that in 1998 $10.3 billion was lost to the US economy due to overseas productions. New York noticed too. And so did other States, like Louisiana where it occurred to lawmakers that if the incentive program worked for Canada why not in their State.
In 2002 there were five States with production incentive programs, in 2009 there were 44. Folks at the film offices quickly had to adapt. They were no longer just recommending locations and helping with permits but had to be able to educate prospective filmmakers about their State’s incentive program. In a recent conversation with Andy Edmunds, Director of the Virginia Film Office, he said, “I used to spend most of my time talking about all the beautiful places to shoot in Virginia. Now I spend my time explaining the [incentive] program and verifying the in-State spending of productions taking advantage of the program.”
Each State’s program is unique to them. The requirements vary as the terrain. Some offer tax credits, others offer cash rebates. Some can “save” a production 20%, others offer as much as 35%. And the programs change with the political landscape. North Carolina, a production stalwart in the Southeast just a few years ago, saw a number of productions move to Georgia when the NC incentive decreased at about the same time that the GA incentive increased.
The best bet? Go to the web site for the film office of the State where you’re interested in shooting your film, read up on what they offer, then give them a call. They’re there to help filmmakers.
Check out the Resources section on IndieFilm.org – – http://indiefilm.org/state-film-commission-offices-directory/ – – to get contact information for all 50 States plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC.