With so many states offering tax incentives, rebate programs, and other financial support for TV and film production, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by options. You might be tempted to shoot in some of the states that steal the incentives spotlight like Louisiana or Georgia. But if you look beyond these traditional destinations, you might be surprised by the vibrant filmmaking scene in Mississippi.
The state is not only home to beautiful locations, talented crews, and a booming production slate. They also offer a package of incentives that puts many other states to shame.
But is Mississippi the right state for your shoot? What unique incentives does it offer? And how does the state benefit from your business?
To get these questions answered, Wrapbook went straight to the source and spoke to the Head of the Mississippi Film Office, Nina Parikh as well as Toni Miceli, CEO of RTR Media - an independent television studio known for producing the hit HGTV series Hometown.
To watch Nina and Toni's interview with Wrapbook Co-founder & CMO, Cameron Woodward, just click below.
Nina got her start studying film at the University of Southern Mississippi and at New York University.
She quickly worked her way up the ranks of the camera department and ultimately into her role at the Mississippi Film Office. She’s also a producer and filmmaker who shepherded the Mississippi-made film Ballast to Sundance in 2008.
She recalls that when she started in the film office,
“Our work was location heavy. It was location-based, you know, we read a script, we'd find the locations, we take people out on scouts. It was a lot of scouting and then it was also connecting the dots between a production [and] helping them find the crew base that's here in the state.”
Over the years, the film office grew into more than just connective tissue between production and Mississippi’s resources.
“We want to try to be a one-stop shop for production. We want to be an extension of a producing team.”
Meanwhile, Toni began her career on the production management side of unscripted television.
“Through my work, I [became] Head of Production for RTR Media. The founder at the time was looking to retire, so two of us - myself and my business partner, Jenna - we bought the company and we turned the focus of our company from Canadian productions to American and we're now one of the largest suppliers for HGTV US.”
Toni and RTR’s biggest show is Hometown on HGTV. The smash hit reality series details the joys of small town living and features spectacular renovations in small towns all over the map, but the heart of the show is in Laurel, Mississippi.
The first thing Toni discovered was that Laurel was a small Mississippi town two hours outside New Orleans, and resources were limited.
“When we came to Laurel, we rolled into this small town that was not used to having production. It certainly was not a production hub.”
In need of assistance with locations, crew, equipment rentals, and more, Toni contacted the Mississippi Film Office.
“The number one role [the film office] played was resources. They were someone to call when we didn't know where to look. They answered every question we had [...] and what was great about them is if they didn't know, they would point us somewhere else. So it was never just a dead end for us. They always helped us get to the next question or the next location.”
In the eight years since production on Hometown began, Toni has forged meaningful relationships with much of the staff at the Mississippi Film Office, including Nina. Thanks to the team’s collective efforts,
“Laurel became a third character in the show and it continues today to be a character. I can honestly say that the town is thriving and has done a 180 since we arrived. I proudly say we did save a town.”
And as Toni would discover, Mississippi is home to much more than towns that need saving.
While Toni was originally drawn to Mississippi by the need to shoot in Ben and Erin’s hometown, she’s since become an evangelist for the state’s compelling package of incentives as well.
If you need to get up to speed on the differences between different kinds of rebate programs, make sure to check out our guide to Understanding Incentives with Ryan Broussard, Wrapbook’s VP of Sales and Production Incentives before diving in.
Mississippi’s film fund receives $20 million per year, and that money doesn’t roll over year-to-year. The money in the film fund does not roll over year-to-year, which means that it must be spent within the fiscal year or it is lost. This creates a sense of urgency for productions to film in Mississippi, as they know that they will not be able to get the same incentives if they wait until the next fiscal year.
According to Nina, Mississippi’s incentive program began as a cash rebate program in 2004 and continues to operate as one today. It currently offers a 25% to 35% cash rebate on projects that have or plan to have national or international distribution.
Nina breaks it down even further,
“Twenty-five percent is on your spend with vendors here in Mississippi. Twenty-five percent also is on your non-resident payroll, 30% is on your resident payroll, and you get an extra 5% - bumping it to 35% - for hiring any individuals that are veterans of the US armed forces.”
These rebates are a huge benefit to producers looking for the best state to stretch their dollar.
To qualify for these rebates, production must spend a minimum of $50,000 in the state of Mississippi.
This is one of the lower minimums of any state film program, and it was designed that way to make sure that local projects with lower budgets could take advantage of the program.
In an attempt to attract even more of the kind of consistent, reliable work that Toni and Hometown bring to the state, Mississippi’s production rebate fund received an additional $10 million this year, specific to episodic and series work.
This new rebate breaks down a little bit differently, with a 20% payroll rebate for non-residents, and a 35% payroll rebate for residents. The idea is to create an incentive that encourages productions to make more local hires for longer periods. As Nina explains,
“With Hometown we've seen their crew base grow to include more residents over the years, so that will benefit them, certainly. Hopefully, with television shows and episodic work we want to see [productions] here for longer [...] and we expect that they would want to hire more locals to save on housing.”
Those sorts of knock on effects are exactly why Mississippi offers such great incentives.
These numbers don’t just look great on paper. They’ve had a real impact on the state, especially in regards to cultivating a local crew base.
Toni went from bringing Hometown’s whole crew from out of state to having multiple crew members fall in love with Mississippi and move there.
“We've built a community, so you know, having more residents helps us from a production point of view because people are more available. They're close to work. It also helps us from a tax perspective because now we have more residents, and you get a slightly higher [rebate] amount for residents. Our goal is to always hire locals and we've created our own industry in Laurel.”
Nina adds that creating this kind of community is exactly the goal of the state’s incentive program.
“They have hired a lot of young folks from the area who may have only worked one show before, and they have nurtured them and given them experience, built their resumes, and now these folks can go anywhere and work [because] they now have this very impressive resume with the work they've done at Hometown.”
The work she’s done to expand Mississippi’s crew base is also a source of personal pride for Nina.
“It's so great to see those call sheets come out. It's like, 'Oh, I recognize that name!' or see them highlighted as, 'These are the Mississippians.'”
Unfortunately, the talent pool took a hit when the state’s incentives were revoked from 2017 to 2019. Now that the program is back on its feet and thriving, Nina’s next focus is to build an equipment base to match the state’s top-notch crew base.
State tax incentives do more than just encourage productions to hire locally. That money finds its way into the community’s pockets, too.
Cast and crew eat at local restaurants, stay at local hotels, and spend money on entertainment in the area. Not only that, but production has to rent equipment and locations from locals as well.
On top of that, production can put locations on the map. Just like the town of Senoia, Georgia became a destination for fans of The Walking Dead (which shot in Senoia), Laurel has become a beacon for Mississippi tourism.
The state conducted a small study after only the second season of Hometown and discovered that room and restaurant taxes in Laurel went up significantly.
More group bus tours are going to Laurel than ever before. Ice cream stores have popped up all over downtown to serve tourists during the hot summers, and crew members have even bought homes in town.
Nina points out that the benefits of production have lifted the spirits of a town that used to have tumbleweeds drifting down main street.
“You can tell that people feel good, you know? Like, they feel good talking about where they live.”
In the words of Wrapbook’s Ryan Broussard, Mississippi is an “overlooked gem” for film and television production. Between the state’s generous incentives, growing crew base, and numerous success stories, it might be the perfect place to think about your next shoot.
Special thanks to Nina and Toni for sharing the details of their boots-on-the-ground experience!
For more information on state tax incentives, take a look at Wrapbook’s guide right here - or hop over to our guide to commercial production in Hawaii if you need a more tropical location for your project.
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