SC film-incentives bill passes; Beaufort chamber celebrates

astice@islandpacket.comMay 1, 2013 

In this February file photo, Hollywood producer and director Mike Tollin, left, accepts the Beaufort International Film Festival's Jean Ribaut Award for Excellence in Filmmaking from Carissa Lamb at University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts.

RES — Photo by Bob Sofaly

Beaufort business leaders are celebrating the passage of an incentives bill designed to entice filmmakers to South Carolina.

The measure would increase tax rebates for movies and television shows. It passed the S.C. House of Representatives this week and is expected to be approved by a conference committee before going to Gov. Nikki Haley, according to state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton.

House lawmakers fast-tracked the proposal to keep a CBS legal drama in Charleston. The bill passed the Senate last month. According to The (Columbia) State newspaper, the producers of the pilot "Reckless" have until mid-May to decide whether to continue shooting in South Carolina or move to Georgia, which offers more incentives than the Palmetto State.

Blakely Williams, president and CEO of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the competition with neighboring states is exactly why the bill should become law.

"The problem was that our state hadn't changed its legislation, and our neighbors North Carolina and Georgia did," Williams said. "One thing we've seen in recent years is that Georgia has seen a real increase" in revenue from the film industry.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the film and television industry created $1.3 billion in wages in Georgia in 2010 and 2011, a figure that includes both production and distribution-related jobs.

In South Carolina over the same time period, that figure was $126 million.

Williams said the Beaufort area "has a lot to gain" if the bill becomes law.

"We're home to all of these great films, but they're all before the year 2000," she said.

Herbkersman said the measure might already be working. In addition to the legal drama filming its pilot episode in Charleston, there has been "some interest in filming a major motion picture in Beaufort." He said he could not give more details.

"(The bill) is bringing recognition to South Carolina, helping us show off our assets and our attributes," he said. "It's another way to bring in commerce and much-needed advertisement."

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey, reached by email, would not say whether the governor will sign the bill into law, only that "we're watching this bill as it goes through the process."

The bill increases the rebates on wages from 15 percent to 20 percent for film-production companies operating in the state. If workers are state residents, the wage rebate rises to 25 percent. Filmmakers must spend at least $1 million in the state to qualify.

From 2007 to 2011, South Carolina paid rebates to nine film productions, including "Army Wives," a drama filmed in Charleston now in its seventh season on the Lifetime network. The state has paid $21 million in wage and supplier rebates to the nine productions, according to a 2011 study prepared for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

Adam Beam of The (Columbia) State contributed to this report.

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