Wanted in Missouri: An Incentives Program to Compete With Other States on Film and TV Production

Kansas City was on the radar when the producers of “Sharp Objects” looked for a place to film. The HBO miniseries is set in Missouri and is based on a novel by Gillian Flynn, best-selling author of “Gone Girl,” who is from Kansas City.

“They were going to fly in and scout,” recalled Steph Scupham, KC Film Office director at Visit KC. “We had locations lined up for them to see.”

But Kansas City lost out to Barnesville, Georgia. “It broke my heart,” Scupham said.

She puts the blame on the disparity between film production incentives in Missouri versus Georgia. Missouri used to have a statewide incentives program, but it expired in 2013. Kansas City offers cash rebates of up to 10 percent on qualified expenditures, with a minimum required spend of $100,000 for a feature film or TV series. The aggregate total of rebates is capped at $75,000 a year.

By comparison, Georgia has a statewide incentive program that offers a 20 percent base transferrable tax credit on a minimum spend of $500,000, with no limits or caps.

“The projects that are set in Missouri or set in Kansas City that we don’t get, they’re really the ones we’d like to be able to compete for,” Scupham said.

Rodriques Law, a business and entertainment law firm based in New York, says on its website that most states offer film production subsidies in the form of tax credits, cash rebates and grants. The subsidies may cover pre-production, production and post-production expenses, including the costs of goods, services, wages and salaries.

“Film incentives have served as engines of the film industry’s phenomenal growth in many of the states in the U.S.,” the law firm says.

The law firm said the best film incentives are offered by Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Incentives draw the attention of industry players such as David Dastmalchian, an actor and screenwriter who grew up in Shawnee. In late October, Dastmalchian was working on a Hulu TV pilot called “Reprisal” in Wilmington, North Carolina.

“I’m working right now on a set where we’ve got actors and writers and directors from all over the world, falling in love with this town called Wilmington,” Dastmalchian said. “We’ve got a crew of 150 people, 90 percent of which are residents of this state. One of the big reasons we’re working here, other than the beautiful landscape and wonderful crews, is the fact there are financial incentives to come and produce work here.”

Dastmalchian said the filming for most of his projects occurs in Georgia or Canada. He likes to film in Georgia “because the state of Georgia offers such a competitive tax incentive for companies to come work there. I would love to spend some of this time I’m working in these other places in Missouri or Kansas. It baffles me that we don’t get the opportunity to do that.”

The incentives gap also is apparent to Morgan Dameron, a writer and director from Kansas City. Her first film, “Different Flowers,” was shot here, at locations such as McGonigle’s Market and Country Club Christian Church.

“I wanted to make it in my hometown,” Dameron said. “I like to write Midwestern stories, and I would love to tell them in the Midwest. There’s an authenticity here that you can’t purchase.”

But it will take more than authenticity to get Dameron to film her next project in the Show Me State. “As I’m putting together the financing, I’m learning that you can only go where the incentives are,” she said. “I’d love to make my next movie in Missouri, but I need a state tax incentive to make it make sense from a business point of view.”

Scupham said the KC Film Office has tracked more than $41 million in estimated economic impact from the productions it has assisted since the Film Office was launched in October 2014.

“Our local incentive is very easy to use, and a lot of different kinds of projects are qualified to use it,” she said. “It’s a growing industry, and we want to be a part of that. It employs so many different kinds of people, 150 different kinds of jobs. If you are a truck driver, seamstress, actor, writer, producer or grip there’s a job for you. There are 38 film and media programs at the collegiate and university level around the state of Missouri, and we want those graduates to have the option to work here.”

But Kansas City’s incentive program was never meant to compete with statewide programs around the country, Scupham said.

Missouri could get back in the game next year if the General Assembly reinstates statewide film project incentives. Scupham said industry advocates such as the Missouri Motion Media Association (MOMMA) want to see that happen.

“MOMMA wants Missouri to be able to compete for feature film productions and also television series,” Scupham said. “I’m not saying we’re going to be a Georgia. It’s got to be a good fit for Missouri. We want to be able to compete for those stories that are our stories.”

The Missouri General Assembly 2019 session is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Jan. 9. Stay tuned.

Julius Karash

Julius A. Karash is a freelance writer, editor and public relations person. He formerly was a business reporter for the Kansas City Star and executive editor of KC Business magazine. He devours business and economic news, and is keenly interested in the relationship between arts and economic development in the Kansas City area.

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