"Right now, the state seal of Tennessee features plowshares, a cotton boll, and some wheat. One day I would like to see a film reel in there, as well," says David Bennet, chairman of the State Film Production Advisory Committee.
The group, which is composed of state film commission officials and local television executives and film producers, held a public hearing at the Memphis Botanic Garden last week to discuss the future of film and television production in Tennessee.
The discussion focused on growing opportunities in media production in Tennessee and the need for new tax incentives to encourage film industry growth.
"By not offering these incentives, you're taking an arrow out of your quiver," says Adam Hohenberg, associate producer of the Memphis-based 40 Shades of Blue. "We need to seize this momentum."
Ira Sachs' 40 Shades of Blue, along with Criag Brewer's Hustle & Flow and the soon-to-be-released Walk the Line, represent recent large-scale projects filmed in Memphis. Nashville producer Mitchell Galin warns that Memphis is "beginning to be recognized as having homegrown directorial talent," he says. "Pockets of production develop around that, but right now, these guys are fighting an uphill battle just to work here."
Stephanie Allain, a producer on Hustle & Flow and the upcoming Brewer project Black Snake Moan, agrees.
"It was a tough choice to come back to Memphis. The studio really did push us to the wall," she says.
John Ryder, an attorney for the local film commission, compared tax credits for the film industry to incentives for manufacturing.
"For a steel plant, they would move heaven and earth," he says. "I think the time has come for Tennessee to bite the bullet and get aggressive about this."
The committee will give its recommendations for new laws to the governor and General Assembly on February 1st. The tax incentives that attract production business are nothing new to the state.
"We were one of the first states to have a film incentive," says Bennet. "When we created it in 1995, it looked pretty good. Now it looks pretty anemic."
Dama Chasle, a former vice president with 20th Century Fox, cited Louisiana as a potential model for Tennessee. The state passed new tax incentives in 2002 and production spending then grew from $20 million that year to more than $300 million by 2004.
Other speakers at the forum cited the ancillary benefits to the music and tourism industry. Allain noted that local production has value beyond economics. "A local production provides a sense of pride and ownership, that homegrown love you can't quantify," she says.
Remember that the next time someone yells, "Whoop dat trick!"