How Production Incentives Help Indie Filmmakers Choose the Best Filming Locations

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Joseph Chianese
Joseph Chianese Member Posts: 116
edited July 1 in Producers

For independent filmmakers, the budget is one of, if not the most, significant factors in getting a film made. During every phase of production careful and strategic decisions must be made to manage costs, and location can play a large part in preserving the budget—thanks to production incentives. 

Many locations, both domestically and internationally, are introducing or expanding their film incentives in the hopes of luring production. Why? Production incentives go beyond just attracting the production itself. Production incentives stimulate the economy, generate revenue for local businesses, and boost employment opportunities for workers. A growing industry presence also leads to the development of infrastructure, a skilled workforce, and with more economic growth comes the ability to compete for more business.

Indie filmmakers now have an expanded menu of options available when it comes to choosing a location. With film incentives playing such a crucial role in the budget, it’s important to understand how incentives can help you select which location is the best for your project and can offer the biggest return to help your budget.

How incentives can help your budget

For every independent filmmaker, financing is the pulse of a project – without it, the project will remain lifeless. And as any filmmaker knows, financing can also be the most stressful part of the process. In addition to options like equity, debt, and minimum guarantees, production incentives are an excellent resource that can help you reach your funding goals and reduce the financial burden. Let’s take a look at three common, yet vital questions about incentives: 

How do production incentives work?

Incentives are financial benefits offered by governments to encourage film and television production within a particular region. You can receive these benefits through Rebates, Tax Credits (Refundable and Transferable), and as a Non-refundable/Non-Transferable Tax Credit. For example, if your budget is $2M and you apply for and receive an incentive for $500K, you only have to finance for $1.5M. That’s 25% of your budget!

We’ve created this handy guide to production tax incentives for a more in-depth understanding of how they work.

When should you start investigating incentives?

We cannot stress this enough: do your homework early! Even in the early stages of the script-writing process, incentives can factor into your project and even influence creative decisions. Consider, for example, the setting of your script. What are some of the locations you might want to film in? Researching what production incentives available in those areas early will make a difference – you can build your script or plan out your shooting locations around those incentives.

Where can you find production incentives?

Since they were first introduced in the US in 2001, production incentive programs have grown and evolved on a global scale. The United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as Latin America, all offer these financial benefits to filmmakers. Within the US alone, 36 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands offer some form of production incentives. 

In the United States, Rebates tend to be the quickest incentives to monetize. Producers can typically receive incentive money back from a state within 60-90 days upon completion of principal photography. Some of the more attractive locations for independent filmmakers in the US with low minimum spend rebate incentives include: 

  • Virginia ($0)
  • Mississippi and Oklahoma ($50K)
  • Maine ($75K)
  • Minnesota ($100K)
  • Tennessee ($150K - $250K)
  • District of Columbia ($250K)
  • U.S. Virgin Islands ($250K)
  • Texas ($250K - $3.5M)
  • Washington State ($500K)
  • Oregon & South Carolina ($1M)

As you’re shopping locations for your production, keep in mind that there are usually requirements your project will need to fulfill to access these incentives, such as spending a minimum amount of funds within that area; this could include hiring local crew and supporting local businesses. 

On the upside, locations can oftentimes double for one another, so you’ve got options! If one jurisdiction has too high of a minimum spend, or limited incentive funding available, there may likely be another location with similar landscapes or urban settings that could work. For example, California has limited annual incentive funding ($330M) when compared to Georgia (which has no annual cap). In addition, Georgia and Louisiana allow Above the Line (e.g., actors, directors, producers) as qualified spend for their incentive (California does not allow ATL as qualified spend for the state incentive). Recently, Amazon’s ‘The Idea of You,’ which is set in various locations in California (e.g., Coachella) and France, was actually filmed in Georgia. 

Toronto is another location that filmmakers commonly use, thanks to generous incentives and a highly favorable foreign exchange rate between the US and Canada. Toronto frequently doubles for large US cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago. 

In 2013, Baz Luhrmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby,’ set on Long Island and New York City, was filmed in Australia, and 2022 ‘Blacklight’ (Netflix) starring Liam Neeson, filmed in Melbourne and Canberra, which doubled for Washington D.C. 

In addition to seeking out alternative locations for production incentives, there are often many other cost-related benefits that come from shooting in less congested film hubs – pulling permits, hiring security, catering, accommodations, and waste-disposal just to name a few. Those services are often more financially viable with quicker turnarounds, and paired with your savings from receiving incentive benefits, it could be a winning combo for seeing your project through to completion.

Crew & Infrastructure 

While seeking out unique filming locations that offer the financial benefits of production  incentives, well-developed infrastructure and a qualified crew base will also play in your decision making. Here too, incentives play into selecting the optimal filming location. 

For many regions, government support for funding incentive programs also results in continuous development of filming infrastructure and funding for crew training programs. Combined, these three elements (incentives, infrastructure, and crew) mean jurisdictions are prepared and well equipped to attract and support more projects. States like Oklahoma, Minnesota, Illinois, and Washington, have all launched workforce development programs and facilities for filming.  

Trevor Rogers, Executive Director of the Film Education Institute of Oklahoma (FEIO) is working closely with the Oklahoma Film and Music Office to grow a qualified training program to support incoming productions. To date, FEIO has trained close to 600 individuals, with about 100 of them still actively working on productions in Oklahoma.

Tim Williams, Film Commissioner of Oregon’s film office, and former producer, is an advocate of supporting the next generation of filmmakers through his relationships with the local unions, film professionals, and non-profits. One of his efforts includes partnering with Outside the Frame to give marginalized and homeless youth opportunities to train and work in filmmaking.

In Australia, the incentives (called Offsets), require incoming productions to either offer training or contribute to the workforce and infrastructure. Entertainment Partners’ Australian offices are helping productions satisfy that training requirement by teaching workshops for Production Accountants and Assistant Accountants. Whether its state-of-the-art sound stages, VFX studios, production, or post-production services, it's important to align your project with what a region can offer. 

Leveraging Film Offices 

With all the factors that go into evaluating and selecting a filming location, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Once you’ve got some locations in mind, be sure to contact the local film offices for support. Film Offices, led by Film Commissioners and their teams, are non-profit organizations (often government-endorsed) that support the film, television, and media industries in a specific region or country.

Film Commissioners are experts in the area, and you’ll want them as your ally from day one! They can help your production with everything from location scouting and permitting, to production incentives, industry support, and forging partnerships with local businesses or agencies. Given their connections in the area, especially with government bodies and local officials, they will be able to guide you through the challenges of your most ambitious scenes. Should you need any specific permit or roads blocked off, they will be the person who can cut through red tape and open doors that otherwise you may have a more difficult time doing on your own.

Buffalo New York Film Commissioner, Tim Clark found a working steam train for a film crew and even closed off a freeway for the productions of ‘A Quiet Place’ and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’

Peter Hawley, Director of the Illinois Film Office, regularly interfaces with the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation, and the fire marshal for the show ‘Chicago Fire.’ His office also frequently works with the Department of Corrections for the numerous productions that have scenes taking place in prisons and other detention facilities.

Oftentimes, film commissioners have a background as producers and are well equipped to advise and connect. They carry a wealth of industry contacts that could prove beneficial for building your local crew, especially when most production incentives often require it.

Trevor Rogers and his team at FEIO have close relations with local Native American Reservations through their partnership with the Cherokee Nation Film Office. In his mission to increase the presence of Native Americans both in front and behind the camera, Rogers and his film commission team can be a valuable resource in providing introductions to these tribes for location scouting, talent, and crew.

Through EP’s Production Incentives Map, you can find the contact info for every film office when you click on a specific jurisdiction.

How EP can help you choose the best location

When choosing a filming location, it's important to thoroughly understand every aspect of the incentive to maximize benefits and minimize potential issues. This includes comprehending the application process and all the legislation, regulations, policies, and procedures associated with the incentive. It may sound daunting at first, but you don’t have to do it alone!

Consider Entertainment Partners as one of the members of your filmmaking team. We are here to help you choose the best location with our experts across the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia and strategically guide you toward incentives that align with your project and budget. 

To get started, visit our Production Incentives page to view incentives by geographic location, the Incentives Estimator to calculate savings by North American locations, or the Jurisdiction Comparison tool for quick side-by-side views of incentives in up to three locations at once, or contact our dedicated incentives team for expert guidance and take the guesswork out of the incentive process!  

From understanding incentive legislation to the application and administration of the incentive, we’ll help you maximize your tax credits, and secure the financing you need to make your vision a reality. 

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