Movies made in Miss. making rounds
From high-budget films such as 2011’s “The Help” and the James Brown bio pic “Get On Up,” set to premiere Aug. 1, to independent films such as Patrik-Ian Polk’s “Blackbird” and Miles Doleac’s “The Historian,” the movie titles emerging from Mississippi are becoming more widespread.
Recent years also have brought titles such as James Franco’s William Faulkner adaptations “As I Lay Dying” and “The Sound and the Fury.”
“It’s really picked up,” said Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Film Office. “We’re probably getting a script or two a week from filmmakers who are interested in filming here. … We expect that will just continue to ramp up as we go forward and more people see the films that have been made here.”
Since the Mississippi Film Office was created in 1973, Emling said its job has been to attract filmmakers with Mississippi’s wide array of scenic and talent offerings.
“We say we can shoot, film and create jobs in 82 counties, and we’ve pretty much had film activity in all 82 counties,” Emling said. “We’ve been able to affect the entire state.”
Movies made in the Pine Belt
2013 was a big year for the Pine Belt in terms of movie production.
Hattiesburg-native Patrik-Ian Polk returned to his hometown in March 2013 to bring his latest film, “Blackbird” to the Pine Belt.
The film is a coming-of-age tale about a young choir singer who struggles with his sexuality as he deals with life in a small Southern Baptist community.
Featuring Academy Award-winning actress Mo’Nique and former “Gray’s Anatomy’ star Isaiah Washington, the film was shot at locations downtown such as Big Star on North Main Street and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
“Blackbird” made its world premiere Feb. 16 at the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles, and was later featured at HBO’s Outfest Fusion LGBT People of Color Film Festival in Los Angeles.
On June 20, “Blackbird” will take flight to the East Coast where it will be featured in the American Black Film Festival in New York.
May 2013 was a whirlwind for Hattiesburg actor/director/producer Miles Doleac, a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, who took the summer months to dedicate his creative energies to his movie, “The Historian.”
The film tells the story of a young history professor who tries to escape his past by seeking a fresh start at a new university, only to clash professionally and personally with his department chair. As work tensions rise, so does the complexity of his personal relationships.
Featuring Hollywood and stage veteran John Cullum, television/film stars William Sadler and Collin Cunningham, the film also featured USM. A majority of the film was shot in the Pine Belt with a few scenes shot on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“The Historian” had its world premiere on May 20 at the SOHO International Film Festival in New York City, and was later featured at Dances with Films 17 on June 5 in Los Angeles.
The film since has been selected to help open this year’s Long Island International Film Expo on July 11 in Bellmore, New York.
Mississippi on a world stage
Doleac said it was important to him that he shoot “The Historian” in Mississippi.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see it on the screen,” he said. “I very much wanted to shoot my film in the state and be an advocate for the state of Mississippi. … I want to continue to promote the arts in Mississippi and promote Mississippi as a film location.”
Emling said directors like Polk, Doleac and “Get on Up’s” Tate Taylor are leading the charge to bring their craft to their home state.
“Filmmakers are coming home to Mississippi to make their films,” he said. “We are at the point where these filmmakers come out of Mississippi, and they have moved to New York or (Los Angeles) and now they are in a position to bring their movies home. That’s a big deal. That’s a great addition when you have filmmakers who are committed to using their homes.”
Doleac said Mississippi is a filmmaker’s and film watcher’s paradise.
“It has everything geographically and architecturally,” he said. “It’s great to hear people in New York say, ‘That campus you shot on was so beautiful.’ That means a lot that I was able to showcase my hometown and my university and that people are looking at those pictures on the big screen and they are saying, ‘That looks great. Where is that?’ ”
Doleac said he wanted “The Historian” to be set in Anywhere, USA, and that’s the exact feel he was able to achieve.
“That’s what’s great about Mississippi as a film location,” he said. “If you want that antebellum Southern feel, we’ve got that, but if you want Anywhere, USA, we can be that, too.”
Doleac said he’s excited about the future of his Mississippi-made film, and hopes to continue sharing “The Historian” with the world.
“There almost certainly will be more festivals in the summer and the fall, and we are excited to see where this thing goes next,” he said. “These film festivals that we go to are like film markets and the objective is not only to get exposed for the film, but to find a distributor for the film, and once that distributor signs on, they get it into theaters or video on demand or whatever format it ultimately lands in.”
Sweetening the deal
In recent years, Doleac said he’s seen the film community find a home in Louisiana — primarily New Orleans — and help the entire state not only economically, but by placing the state on the world stage.
“I still believe firmly that film production had a great deal to do with New Orleans’ fairly quick recovery after Hurricane Katrina,” Doleac said. “There was such a big influx into the eon of the N.O. community because Hollywood committed to the state legislature with their tax incentive package to draw in production. … I see no reason why the Hattiesburg area can’t do what places like Louisiana, Georgia or North Carolina are doing.”
Emling said for the past decade, Mississippi has worked to make its incentive program alluring to filmmakers.
“Back in ’04 we created an incentive program,” he said “Louisiana was the first out of the gate with their incentive in 2002, and since then, 45 states have kind of followed.”
According to Emling, each film featuring Mississippi locales helps showcase what the state has to offer.
“While it’s being made and seen, it’s just another reminder to people that you can film in Mississippi and that there’s an industry here and that our incentive program is good. It reminds people that we’re here and supportive, which is a big word for us.”
Emling said the state’s incentive is a 25 percent cash rebate on what a production spends in Mississippi and on the payroll for out of state cast and crew members. The pot is sweetened with an additional 5 percent bonus for filmmakers if they hire Mississippi cast and crew.
As of last year, Emling said the state set itself apart from other states by sweetening the deal even further.
“We’re the only state in the union that offers an additional 5 percent rebate for honorably discharged veterans on the payroll,” he said. “If you’re a veteran, then the rebate on your salary is either 30 or 35 percent.”
However, to make the state’s offer more enticing, state residents have to play their parts as well.
“We need the right locations, infrastructures and we need workers,” Emling said. “We need a trained work force. That’s one of the things that has been realized more and more as the years go on.”
A multi-million dollar economic boost
Emling said every film crew — whether they are filming a movie, documentary, commercial or for a video game — brings money to Mississippi’s overall economy.
“They spent a lot of money and they spend it over an incredible spectrum in the community,” he said. “The film industry has the broadest range of community benefit of any industry. A film comes into a town and they set up offices, hire people and then they hire actors and they bring in their crew and start production, and they are building sets and finding locations.”
Aside from work purchases, Emling said communities also see a profit in their entertainment and dining industries.
“They are like tourists,” he said. “Those who come in don’t have a kitchen, and they tend to gravitate to the nicer restaurants. They are out in the community spending a lot of money.”
According to Emling, the size and the resources within a city can make or break the fiscal success a community sees when a movie is filming.
“Greenwood was just big enough to support (‘The Help,’),” Emling said. “They didn’t have to go out and get things. They could find what they wanted in the city and the county and they were able to spend a lot of their money there. Hattiesburg is the same way.”
The future of movies in Mississippi
As the Mississippi Film Office sees more and more scripts cross its desks and an elevated curiosity about what the state has to offer directors around the globe, Emling said he believes Mississippi is moving in the right direction.
“We had 20-something projects in 2013, and we’ll probably see that number or more this year,” he said. “ ‘Get On Up’ was the biggest of the films we had last year. … I think we’re going to see a lot of films in the $2-10 million range come forward this year.”
Emling said he and his team have been scouting out more of Mississippi than ever before.
“We’re good, short of mountains and deserts,” he said. “We’re dealing with a lot of new requests for locations.”
Emling said Mississippi offers antebellum homes, 1920s-40s neighborhoods and metropolitan cityscapes with high-end buildings as well as railroad towns and waterfront, Mississippi coastal backdrops.
Aside from locations, Emling said Mississippians, themselves, play a large role in helping attract movies to the state.
“The communities have always been supportive, whether it’s a tiny movie or a big movie,” he said. “They’ve been supporting them in almost the exact same way whether it has a handful of dollars or a fistful of dollars.”
Doleac said he is hopeful that Mississippians will continue to lead the charge toward cultural and economic success within the film industry.
“I’m worried sometimes because Mississippi is notorious for lacking vision, but I’m hoping that we are seeing that trend turn around,” he said. “I’m hoping we have people who are saying, ‘The arts and the promotion of arts in Mississippi is good for everyone and the economy, and we need to get behind it.’ I think that is starting to happen.”
At a glance
Filmed in Mississippi
Filmmaking isn’t entirely new to Mississippi. Here are some movies that have filmed scenes in Mississippi.
O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?
My Dog Skip
Walk the Line
Get on Up
Dont Look Back:
The Story of Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige
(a television movie filmed in Hattiesburg)