It’s not an exaggeration to say that 2014 has been a busy time for Mississippi’s film industry. With 14 feature films shot in the state this past year, Mississippi's film rebate program is clearly working to bring Hollywood to the southern state.
"It's a 25% rebate on what they spend in Mississippi, and on the payroll for non-resident cast and crew," director of the Mississippi Film Office Ward Emling explained the state's film incentive packages. "Then it's a 30% rebate on resident cast and crew in Mississippi."
With their latest film Catching Fire gracing theater screens everywhere in the world this week, Liam Hemsworth and Woody Harrelson just wrapped up shooting the Western film By Way of Helena (directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith) in Greenwood, Mississippi.
For Helena, Greenwood's Florewood State Park was transformed into an Old West frontier town. In addition, it also served as the hub for the production. For two months, the Leflore County Board of Supervisors rented the park to the production to use for filming and as an office base for approximately for $20,000. But that’s not all. The producers also put in "tens of thousands of dollars" to improve the state park, which is currently closed for renovation.
"A lot of the films we're getting now are not even Southern," said Emling. "Midwestern, general America stuff, but then to have a Western here, that's going to be big when that movie comes out."
Leflore County Supervisor Anjuan Brown said having the production filming in the state is a boost to Greenwood’s economy. The By Way of Helena project has spent "millions of dollars" in the area on building materials to dry cleaning, lodging and food. It's a much-needed "economic shot in the arm for our city and our county," Brown said.
By Way of Helena is the third feature film to shoot in the Greenwood area in the past four years. The Help, a movie based on Kathryn Stockett's novel of the same name, was also filmed in Greenwood in 2010. In 2013, The Sound and the Fury (starring James Franco) was shot in Mississippi's Carroll County.
As By Way of Helena is wrapping up, Same Kind of Different as Me, with Greg Kinnear and Renee Zellweger leading the cast, is taking advantage of the state’s competitive incentive package and is currently filming in Jackson, Mississippi.
"A lot of what we're seeing now is word of mouth, and relationships that we've built up over the years," stated Emling. "And then relationships that filmmakers who have been here have built up over the years."
Word of mouth and competitive incentives are not the only reasons that draw filmmakers to Mississippi. There's a deep talent pool for extras and crew in the state and then ... there's the Mississippi landscape. "Mississippi is a great backdrop for locations," said Brian Hilburn, the location manager for The Hollars (another production filmed in Mississippi starring Anna Kendrick and John Krasinski - who's also the director). "It's been a great location to shoot in. People are great, the community very receptive to filming, it's just a great location for people."