New tax incentives mean Mississippi is ‘off to the races’ on luring big film productions

Published 8:47 am Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Several film projects are lined up for Southwest Mississippi including the Natchez area after Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law the expansion of the Mississippi Film Incentives Program, a film producer told local economic leaders Monday.

A $15 million movie starring Academy Award-winning actress Allison Janney will begin filming in June with a list of other multi-million dollar films in the works for the Natchez area, Executive Producer John Norris said during the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Council Meeting Monday.

“I am so excited, more than invigorated about the film bill passing,” Norris said.

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The new law allows for a 25-percent rebate on payroll paid to cast and crew members who are not Mississippi residents. It allows Mississippi-based motion picture production companies to receive up to $5 million for payroll and fringe benefits paid to out of state, non-resident employees.

Norris said the new law has already started to have a positive effect on the film industry in the area.

“A film that was shooting in Baton Rouge has literally dropped everything and moved to Natchez,” Norris said.

The movie titled “Breaking News in Yuba County” will begin filming in Natchez on June 3, Norris said.

Two other movie projects in which Norris said he is involved also are in the works for the area.

Norris helped produce and his partner Tate Taylor directed the upcoming movie “Ma” starring Octavia Spencer. The movie filmed in Natchez last year is set to open in theaters throughout the nation on May 31, which is Memorial Day weekend. The movie will be screened in Los Angeles on May 16.

Norris said the community often focuses only on the actors who come to town for the film, but the movie industry also brings many jobs to the area, including carpenters, electricians, writers, composers and more.

Norris said he and Taylor are working closely with producer Jake Seal, who is buying Dunleith, to help build the film industry in the area.

Thor Juell, vice-president of business development for Dunleith Studios, said he also is excited about the opportunities in the area.

Juell said once the sale of Dunleith is finalized this week, the company will begin focusing on film production.

The house, which previously operated as a bed and breakfast, Juell said, will primarily be used for housing actors. The house will still be available for tours on the weekend and will be open for weddings and other special events, Juell said.

The Castle Restaurant, Juell said, will reopen in early June for local diners.

Juell said the studio also is looking at the former Margaret Martin High School for film production and other opportunities.

Like Norris, Juell said the new tax incentives have made a difference.

“The tax change is a huge differentiator,” Juell said.

As an example, Juell said the incentives have allowed him to show the area to a producer of a $10 million film that was considering filming in Baton Rouge.

The film required a mansion and a high school, Juell said. Because of what Natchez has to offer, Juell said he brought the filmmakers to see the town.

“They saw the magic of the place,” Juell said. “It is not just about Dunleith or about John (Norris) and Tate (Taylor). It is about Natchez,” Juell said about the potential Natchez has for the film industry.

Juell said nothing is finalized for the film, but he is hopeful to announce something soon.

Norris and Juell said they also hope to talk with the new leadership at Alcorn State University about the possibility of starting a film program at the school.

“We are in a perfect storm of opportunity,” Juell said. “As this place becomes increasingly known, it will allow us to invest back into the community to make this place more magical,” Juell said.

“We are off to the races now,” Norris said.