As Beaufort's annual film festival hit full stride Thursday, city leaders expressed support for legislation intended to attract filmmakers to the state.
The bills -- one in the S.C. Senate and one in the House of Representatives -- deserve broad support because they wouldn't "cost taxpayers a penny," according to Ron Tucker, president of the Beaufort Film Society, which is conducting this week's Beaufort International Film Festival.
"The biggest thing about the current legislation is, we're not paying movie companies to come make films," Tucker said at a media event Thursday to tout the bills. "That's the biggest misconception. What it is, is a rebate incentive, which means they have to spend the money in order to get some of it back."
The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Charleston; Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greenville; and Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, are sponsoring the House version.
The bills are similar and share the same rebate increases.
The legislation seeks to increase the rebates given to film companies that spend more than $1 million in South Carolina. The wage rebate on income-tax withholdings would go from 15 percent to 20 percent, and the rebate to suppliers would increase from 15 percent to 30 percent.
South Carolina is well-situated for movie production, according to Robb Wells, Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce tourism division director. It is within easy driving distance of Atlanta and Charlotte, where the film industry is growing, Wells said at Thursday's event at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Center for the Performing Arts.
"The mountains are four hours away," Wells said. "You need a coast? It's here. You need the jungle? It's 20 minutes from where we stand."
The marketing value to the area derived from movies filmed here is immense, he added. For 90 minutes, people see images of the city and surrounding area. Locations around Beaufort are still known by their roles in movies such as "The Big Chill" and "Forrest Gump," and tourists continue to visit sites decades after the cameras stopped rolling.
"It helps that these movies are played over and over on the cable channels, so it keeps it fresh," Tucker said. "But we haven't had a major motion picture since 1999. The last one was 'Rules of Engagement,' so it's been a long time. This will put us back in the ball game."
Mayor Billy Keyserling said he hopes to persuade state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who is on the Senate Finance Committee, to support the measures, but noted that Davis tends to oppose government incentives.
"We need to redefine it so it's not his narrow sense of 'I'm going to give you $1 million if you bring your business here,' " Keyserling said. "It's bring your business here, spend your money here, and we're going to reward you by making it a little less expensive."
Davis said he will enter a meeting with film industry advocates next week with an open mind. He expects to receive data about the incentives' economic effect.
"You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis because in some cases it might make sense and in others it might not," he said.
Tucker said representatives from the Carolina Film Alliance, S.C. Film Council, Beaufort Film Society, Charleston International Film Festival and Greenville International Film Festival signed and submitted a letter to the legislature and to Gov. Nikki Haley in support of the bills.