8 Locations Independent Filmmakers Should Consider for Their Next Project

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Joseph Chianese
Joseph Chianese Member Posts: 87
edited June 10 in Crew

Jurisdictions with low minimum spend requirements and enticing incentive packages every filmmaker should know about.

Author: Joseph Chianese

The independent film industry is navigating a dynamic and transformative period. In recent years there have been many changes reshaping the landscape of independent cinema, impacting production, distribution, and audience engagement in various ways.

Independent filmmakers are using more advanced technology to bring their stories to the screen. High-quality cameras, editing software, and essential filmmaking tools are becoming affordable and accessible, allowing indie filmmakers with diverse voices to bring their creative vision to life. And streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube(to name a few) have allowed these creators to showcase their work to a wider global audience–in some cases, without the need for a theatrical release.Despite this, some film experts caution that independent filmmakers should be wary of distributing straight to TVOD (Television on Demand), as the model is more favorable to established studios and distributors.

While these changes hint at a promising future for independent cinema, challenges still persist for independent filmmakers trying to secure financing and distribution for their projects. 

With limited marketing budgets, it has become difficult for indie films to compete for theater screens, but as we have already explored, film tax incentives can significantly supplement a film’s financing strategy—sometimes exceeding 40% in certain jurisdictions! Choosing a film location and leveraging the available film tax incentives unlocks a range of accessible resources. 

With so many states and countries offering a range of incentives, where do indie filmmakers begin? In this post, we’ll take a look at8 locations across North America and the UK with low minimum spend requirements and enticing incentive packages every filmmaker should know about.

Five US states with attractive incentives for indie filmmakers

The US offers a variety of incentives worth investigating for independent producers.To help you narrow down the best options, it’s important to weigh two crucial factors: the minimum spend requirements and the optimal timing to receive the returns of the incentive. 

Today we’ll focus on states that offer rebates, which tend to result in the quickest monetization; however, states offering tax credits have not been overlooked. While these states may have a longer timeline for credit monetization, their substantial tax incentives, coupled with access to several uplifts, can be equally appealing to indie filmmakers. 

Oklahoma

The Filmed in Oklahoma Act of 2021provides a cash rebate with a base of 20% to projects that film principal photography in the state. This rebate program is available to productions such as films, television series, and commercials with a minimum spend of $50,000. This incentive replaced the previous incentive’s $8 million annual cap with a $30 million cap.

In total, productions may receive a rebate of 20-38%, depending on which available percentage uplift opportunities the project qualifies for. For instance, productions can apply for an additional 5% Soundstage Uplift if 25% of their project is filmed at a certified soundstage facility, or an additional 3% Rural County Uplift if 25% of their project is filmed in a county with less than 250,000 residents. 

Each production approved for the rebate program is required to hire a certain number of apprentices based on total production expenditures. Projects with less than $7.5 million in direct qualified production expenditure are required to hire 2 apprentices. 

Notable productions that have filmed in Oklahoma and have showcased its diverse landscapes include Lee Isaac Chung’s critically acclaimed film ‘Minari’ (A24), Tom McCarthy’s ‘Stillwater’ (Focus Features), and television-series ‘Reservation Dogs’ (FX). 

For a deeper dive into Oklahoma’s incentive program and why the location is an ideal destination for indie filmmakers, check out this article on our blog.  

Mississippi

The Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive Program provides a 25-30% cash rebate on eligible expenditures and payroll incurred in the state. Two requirements of the state’s rebate program include a $50,000 minimum of in-state spend and verification that at least 20% of the production crew on payroll are Mississippi residents. The state has set the project cap at $10 million and the program’s annual cap at $20 million. 

Productions, such as feature films, television programs, commercials, and animation projects, are eligible for a 25% on eligible expenditures, a 25% rebate on non-resident payroll costs, and a 30% rebate on resident cast and crew payroll costs. In addition, there is a 5% uplift on payroll paid to any member of the cast and crew who is an honorably discharged veteran of the US Armed Forces.

Minnesota

The MN Production Rebate (MNPR) provides a 20% cash rebate to production companies that spend a minimum of $100,000 for eligible in-state production costs, and a 25% tax credit for productions with qualified in-state spend of $1 million (or 60% shoot days outside of the metro). 

In addition to the state rebate, Minnesota offers several regional incentives (including the Iron Range Regional Production Incentive Program, an incentive in St. Louis County, and municipal incentives in the cities Duluth, Austin and Maple Lake) that can provide an additional reimbursement of 10-25% of production costs and post costs on qualifying projects. 

Three recent expansions to the Minnesota tax credit include an increased annual on the credits to $25 million (increased from $5 million); a sunset date extended for an additional 8 years to 2030; and a 15% credit on non-resident BTL labor (for projects with a minimum spend of $5million).  

Check out our recent Master Series webinar ‘Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Opportunities’, featuring Minnesota native, Producer/1st AD Van Hayden ('Genius: MLK/X,’ ‘Hustle & Flow’,) for a comprehensive look into Minnesota’s tax incentives and the promising opportunities it presents to filmmakers.

New Mexico

Under the New Mexico Film Production Tax Credit (FPTC), eligible productions can receive a 25-40% refundable tax credit on direct production costs incurred in the state. Considered one of the largest film tax credits in the country, the FPTC has no minimum spend or project cap, meaning there is no limit on the total amount of funding that can be allocated to individual film projects. 

Productions can tap into several additional uplifts offered by the state, including: a 5% credit for qualifying television series or pilots; a 5% credit on the use of qualified production facilities (QPF); and a 10% credit for qualified expenditures outside the Sante Fe and Albuquerque City Halls. 

Be sure to read more about New Mexico’s intriguing film scene, diverse landscapes, and incentive program here on the EP Blog.

New Jersey

New Jersey’s Film and Digital Media Tax Credit Program provides a transferable tax credit of up to 30-35% of qualified production expenses incurred in the state with an additional 2-4% uplift on applications with an approved diversity plan. The credit program has a minimum spend of $1 million (or 60% of total production expenses in state) and no project cap. 

Effective 2025, the program will incentivize an additional $100 million in tax credits for New Jersey film-lease partners who have committed to long-term leases or acquisitions of New Jersey production facilities. 

This past summer, New Jersey’s governor signed a bill revitalizing the state’s tax credit program with an additional annual allocation of $200 million. The surge in production activity has sparked infrastructure and workforce development, establishing New Jersey as a prominent filming hub on the East Coast and earning it the nickname ‘Hollywood East.’ 

International incentives stimulating independent filmmaking

In addition to these US locations, international jurisdictions also offer excellent incentives for indie filmmakers.

United Kingdom

The UK’s recently launched Independent Film Tax Credit (IFTC), designed to support independent film production, offers a generous 53% expenditure credit that equates to a tax relief of approximately 40% for UK-based productions. To qualify, films must have a budget of less than £15 million ($18.7 million USD) and meet certain criteria, such as having a UK writer or director, or be certified as an official UK co-production. 

The UK’s approach is becoming the model for how regions can promote investment in independent filmmaking via tax credits. These credits not only stimulate industry growth but also facilitate financing for emerging filmmakers and help independent producers in revitalizing stalled projects

In a recent Master Series webinar, I was joined by my UK colleague, Lloyd Gunton, to discuss the details of the UK’s new IFTC program, including eligibility requirements, theatrical release obligations, tax credit value, and guidance on the application process. 

Canada

Canada is renowned for its generous film tax incentives, making it an attractive destination for both domestic and international film productions. 

The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC) offers eligible productions a fully refundable tax credit of 25% of the qualified labor expenditure if a production reaches a minimum that meets one of these two criteria:

  • Not less than 75% of all costs for services provided in respect of producing the production
  • Not less than 75% of the total of all post-production costs, including for laboratory work, sound re-recording, sound editing and picture editing

Production companies can further enhance the incentives by combining the CPTC with provincial tax credits offered by specific provinces. In the Province of Ontario, for instance, qualifying production companies have access to the Ontario Film & Television Tax Credit (OFTTC), a refundable tax credit up to 40% of eligible labor expenditures in the state, depending onwhether the eligible production is a first-time production, a small first-time production, or other than a first-time production.. An enhanced credit rate of 40% on the first $240,000 of qualifying labor expenditure is available for first-time producers. 

Both incentives are available to eligible foreign producers who hire Canadian production services companies to work on their project in Canada. Canada has entered into co-production treaties with several countries, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and many more. Although these treaties vary in terms of their criteria and benefits, they all allow producers from partner countries to access Canadian tax incentives by co-producing projects with Canadian companies. 

Australia

Australia offers a supportive environment for international independent filmmakers with a range of funding opportunities. 

Australia’s Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) Offset has been instrumental in encouraging foreign producers to choose Australia as a filming location. The refundable tax credit offers a fixed rate of 30% of Qualifying Australian Production Expenditure (QAPE) related to PDV activity on an eligible film or television project, regardless of where the project is shot. Eligible productions must have a total QAPE of at least AUD$500,000. 

Australia’s Location Offset offers a 30% rebate on QAPE and can be increased with an additional 10% rebate when combined with state, territory, and local government incentives. Although it is designed to encourage large-budget productions to film in Australia (with a minimum spend of AUD$20 million), the Offset lacks an annual cap or sunset date, ensuring stability for both international film and TV productions. 

To qualify for both Offsets, a production must use one or more Australian providers to deliver post, digital and visual effects for the production. In addition, the project must satisfy specific criteria set by the Australian government, which includes hiring Australian crew members, utilizing local businesses, fulfilling training commitments, and contributing to the industry workforce. 

Tune into this Master Series webinar, featuring my Australian colleague, Jane Corden, to learn more about the prerequisites for the Location Offset and discover how EP’s expert team can assist you in maximizing the incentive for your production. 

How EP can help

If you are seeking guidance on which jurisdiction, in the US or across the globe, may be the best fit for your production, Entertainment Partners provides a range of resources to simplify that decision. Check out our incentives tools, including the jurisdiction comparison and incentives estimator

Our in-house team of production experts can guide you through the process, from budget to the monetization of your production incentive. Reach out today!

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