Heavy incentive packages make movie magic happen more often

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CHARLESTON, S.C. --- South Carolinians could be seeing a lot more of themselves and their home state in new film productions that have been in the state in the past year.

In the highly competitive field of drawing filmmakers to a state, South Carolina's incentive packages are designed not just to get the companies in, but to get them to hire more local production workers and suppliers.

From 1997 through last year, 32 feature films, 10 made-for-TV movies and a television series were filmed in South Carolina, according to the South Carolina Film Commission. Three of those movies -- a romantic comedy with George Clooney, a political drama starring Danny Glover and a thriller featuring Kevin Costner -- have come in just one year.

Location and state incentives were key to winning the Costner film, The New Daughter , which begins filming Feb. 18 and is expected to take about two months to complete, producer Paul Brooks said.

With a budget of $10 million to $50 million, the film will qualify for cash rebates based on how much local talent, crew and suppliers the company uses.

Productions that spend at least $1 million can receive a 20 percent cash rebate on wages paid to South Carolinians and a 30 percent rebate on all goods and services bought from South Carolina suppliers. Productions also get a 20 percent rebate on performers' wages regardless of where they're from as long as they make less than $1 million.

The rebate incentive is "pretty powerful and we feel it makes us extremely competitive," said Commerce Department spokeswoman Kara Borie.

Out-of-state workers and suppliers earn smaller rebates in a change to the law made last year.

"We were actually paying out more than we were getting in benefits," Mr. Borie said. "The idea of the adjustments was to encourage more South Carolinians be used." Mr. Clooney's Leathernecks , about the early years of professional football, filmed in the Upstate last year and is due in theaters in April.

Production wrapped last month in York and Chester counties on the political drama Gospel Hill with Mr. Glover, Angela Bassett and Julia Stiles.

Whenever the writers strike is resolved, production will begin in North Charleston on a second season of Army Wives , the Lifetime Channel ensemble show about those left behind when their spouses head to war.

The show, filmed at the old Charleston Naval Base, drew a Lifetime record 3.5 million viewers when it premiered last June.

Although the state is not quite Hollywood East, film productions have brought dollars to the state economy. Generally, for larger productions, between a third and half of the total film budget might be spent in the state, said Jeff Monks, the head of the South Carolina Film Commission.

Over the years, the state has developed a pool of several hundred people who have the skills to work on films. That helps both the state's economy and the production so companies don't have to bring in as many people from out of state.

"There is another aspect of this many people don't think about -- that's the many small businesses that profit from this, whether it be bottled water or limousines or building materials or office supplies," Mr. Monks said.

But like trying to win any business to a location, winning movie productions is competitive.

"The bigger dogs we are competing with are Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Louisiana and New Mexico," which have all sweetened financial incentives in recent months, Mr. Monks said.

BY THE NUMBERS

From 1997 through last year, many projects made their way to South Carolina.

32 feature films

10 made-for-TV movies

1 television series


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