BCCED aiming to attract film, TV productions

Published 1:31 pm Friday, June 7, 2013

The feature film “Honeydripper” got rave reviews from Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon.

McLendon’s praise of the film had little do to with the way John Sayles told the story of a make-or-break weekend for the Honeydripper Lounge and it’s piano player owner.

It wasn’t even Danny Glover’s outstanding performance as Tyrone “Pine Top” Purvis that drew McLendon’s praise.

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Instead, McLendon raved about the impact the film, which was released in 2007, had on Butler County, which served as the backdrop for the film, which shot in Greenville and the surrounding area.

“I believe the movie ‘Honeydripper’ did more to bring our community together than most anything else we’ve ever done,” McLendon said. “Putting a movie on in your county and city can have an astronomical impact on your community.”

The potential impact of serving as the location for another film is what led to the Butler County Commission for Economic Development hosting a rural Alabama community film briefing on Wednesday.

The briefing, which included officials from surrounding areas and representatives from the Alabama Film Office and Alabama Industrial Development Training, focused on helping cities and counties become “camera ready.”

David Hutchison, executive director of the Butler County Commission for Economic Development, said the briefing was about seeking additional economic development opportunities.

“We’re adding another tool to our economic development toolbox,” he said.

According to the Association of Film Commissioners International, approximately $35,000 per pay is spent in a film location on a low budget, minimal crew, non-union film, and up to $100,000 per day is spent on a high budget, full crew, union film.

Some estimates have the economic impact of three weeks of filming in a community reaching as high as $1 million.

According to the Alabama Film Office, the average low budget movie – one with a budget of less than $14 million – shot in the state will employ anywhere from 50 to 100 Alabamians.

In 2012, production companies spent $33.5 million on entertainment projects in Alabama, an increase from $22 million in the previous year.

According to the Alabama Film Office, production activity in the state has been rising since lawmakers in 2009 approved incentives in the form of rebates aimed at attracting movies and television shows. The Alabama Film Office last year rebated $9.5 million in expenses spent on qualified productions in Alabama, just under the $10 million granted by the Alabama Legislature.

In fiscal 2013, the figure rises to $15 million, making Alabama even more competitive for productions that are credited with creating jobs, stimulating tourism and providing an image boost.

While Tommy Fell, location coordinator for the Alabama Film Office, said the incentives obviously play a role in attracting production companies to the state, landing a film or television series really boils down to three things – location, location, location.

“Promoting your locations is the key to being camera ready and bringing in a production,” he said. “When (director) John (Sayles) chose Butler County to film ‘Honeydripper’ it wasn’t only because of the incentives we offered. He told us he could have gotten incentives in Georgiana, Louisiana and Tennessee. It was because he loved the location and the support he got from the community and the local leaders. That’s what brought the film to Butler County.”

AIDT has also made a commitment to helping the state become camera ready.

The agency formed EMPACT, which is a program that trains Alabamians to work on film crews. It includes courses on set construction, camera techniques and lighting.

“We wanted to make sure that if a production chooses your community, we have folks ready to go to work,” said Bobby Jon Drinkard, project manager for AIDT.

Having seen the impact a film can have on a community, both from an economic standout and in building community relations, McLendon said he believes trying to attract more productions to the area is an important venture.

“Having a movie shot here drew people together,” he said. “Everyone got on board and it really gave a boost to our entire county. It was tremendously positive, and we’ll do whatever we can to (have another film shot here).”