Monday, June 16, 2008

Incentives, Tennessee-style

Theo Emery of the Tennessean in Nashville has a story on how the state landed "Hannah Montana," an instructive look at what it takes to make the most of the state's incentives. The full story is here.

Here's an excerpt:

Disney Pictures, which is producing the $28 million movie about Miley Cyrus' fictional alter ego Hannah Montana, almost didn't shoot in Nashville, or anywhere else in Cyrus' home state.

The movie is being made here because of the feverish efforts of the state Film, Entertainment and Music Commission and its executive director, Perry Gibson, to entice Disney with incentives that could be worth more than $3 million — without which the movie would have instead been filmed in Louisiana.

The Tennessean reviewed hundreds of Gibson's e-mail and text messages through a request under the state public records law. The correspondence illustrates the lengths to which state officials must go to attract movies, which have become prizes in an escalating competition between states to offer tax breaks and rebates for film studios.

Personal ties and the power of handshakes played a role in bringing Disney to Tennessee. Records also indicate that the commission sent bundles of potential crew resumes to Disney, with names flagged for special attention, to convince executives that there was enough experienced labor in Tennessee for the company to qualify for the state's incentives.

Gibson, whom Gov. Phil Bredesen appointed in early 2007, also helped smooth over questions about whether out-of-state cast and crew — including Cyrus and her family — qualified for incentives and personally provided Disney with resumes of Tennesseans in the industry.

In an interview last week, Gibson said every production gets the same treatment, but Disney could set an important precedent in persuading other studios to film big-budget features in Tennessee.

"We needed one production to come here and do really, really well. If they come to a state, and it goes really, really well, they tell everyone," she told The Tennessean. "Disney is so tough, and productions like NBC-Universal say, 'If Disney comes here, we'll be second.' "

As states increase incentives, competition for movies has become fierce, said Bill Lindstrom, CEO of the Association of Film Commissioners International. He said Gibson's efforts demonstrate what must be done in the fight for attention from Hollywood.

"She's a perfect example of the sort of work that a film commission does to do that job right and go the extra mile to make sure it's done right," he said.

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