Released early last month, the movie Dear John, filmed in South Carolina, is in the running for the March 2011 Oscars. By then, South Carolina can hope, more movies will be under production in the Palmetto State for more people to see South Carolina while they decide where to go for vacation. However, Governor Sanford’s latest budget proposes to cut the South Carolina Film Commission staff by 75 percent, from four people to one.
That one remaining would likely be Jeff Monks, also known as the S.C. film commissioner.
Monks appeared before the Columbia Rotary Club last summer, and he brought his movie production numbers with him. The Patriot, filmed in York County, spent $150,000 per day locally for 180 days; Radio, $120,000 a day for 100 days; Dear John, $13 million altogether within 40 miles of Charleston.
Dear John’s first week of national theatrical release took the title of top grossing film from Avatar. Dear John’s opening weekend commanded a box office gross of $32.4 million. Based on the book by Nicholas Sparks, the film shows settings in Africa, Afghanistan, Germany, and American Southern beaches. Monks and his film commission showed the producers where all the locations could be filmed within a 40–mile radius of Charleston.
Dear John is the second movie based on a Nicholas Spark’s novel to be filmed in South Carolina. Before Dear John was The Notebook.
Keeping the work in South Carolina, Dear John kept more than half the payments for 223 crew members, 705 actors, 447 small businesses, and all of 4,780 hotel room nights inside South Carolina for a total local expenditure of $13 million over 130 days in the Lowcountry. Local crew members made up 52 percent of the total labor force. Also, Dear John found 58 percent of its suppliers within South Carolina.
Upon completion, Dear John cost more than $30 million altogether to produce.
Speaking of the Lowcountry, Lifetime’s hit television series Army Wives began production in and around Charleston in January. By the end of July 2010, there should be 18 episodes in the can for the fourth successful season of Army Wives. Each episode takes 200 crew members seven days on the job; that is three on stage and four on location.
Still, there’s not much in production in South Carolina due to Secretary of Commerce Joe Taylor’s reductions in incentives while neighboring states operate at twice the state’s level of production support.
Consequently, South Carolina has not had a feature film under production since December 2008 when
Dear John completed filming.
The film commission has left the Department of Commerce for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, where film incentives are budgeted for the year at $5 million. What’s not spent short of the $5 million is plowed back into the PRT fund.
In April 2008, economist Frank Hefner of the College of Charleston published his
Impact Analysis for Film Production
in South Carolina, 10 typewritten pages analyzing film production incentives presented to the South Carolina Coordinating Council for Economic Development. Hefner noted the fiscal year 2006–2007 when the state had nine feature films under production across the state.
The nine films spent $14,407,563 for supplies and services from local firms. The same nine films received $7,385,342 in rebates. The state, then, paid roughly a 50 percent subsidy for the in–state spending. But total expenditures (including salary with supplies and services) in South Carolina were $22,546,211. Hefner’s conclusions for total economic impact on the state came to $38,815,045.
Out of the total economic impact on the state, $38,815,045, labor income amounted to $14,534,908.
Hefner exposes some weakness in the concept of state subsidies to lure film production, but the more severe criticism comes from a Tax Foundation report of this past January. The new study, “Movie Production Incentives: Blockbuster Support for Lackluster Policy,” is Tax Foundation Special Report No. 173 (http:// www.taxfoundation. org/publications/ show/25706.html).
According to the Tax Foundation, “Rather than addressing the underlying problem and encouraging growth and development primarily by reducing tax burdens across the board and removing cumbersome regulations, which is politically challenging, politicians focus on what’s easy: industry–specific incentives… A better solution would be to repeal these incentive programs and focus instead on broad–based tax competition.”
Sounds like something Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor probably read before the film commission was shifted to PRT. Again, there was no feature film under production in South Carolina for all of 2009 — but nine films two years before. At the same time, South Carolina is surrounded by the competition. Over the past year, both Georgia and North Carolina have sweetened their financial and tax incentives for film producers, and Georgia and North Carolina are getting the feature film production budgets spent over there, not here.
The debate continues.
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