How Alabama is Attracting Big Stars to Film in the State
February 12, 2024
How Alabama is Attracting Big Stars to Film in the State
After a year that saw stars Matthew McConaughey, Kurt Russell, Morgan Freeman, Luke Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Hamill film movies in the state, the Alabama Film Office is looking forward to build on its successes in growing the film and entertainment industry here.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Brian S. Jones, media and location coordinator for the Alabama Film Office. “We’ve had numerous productions that have really opened up for us just in the last year.”
McConaughey and Russell created a buzz as they shot “The Rivals of Amziah King” at various locations throughout the state. The same is true of Hiddleston and Hamill as they filmed “The Life of Chuck” in Fairhope. Freeman and Hemsworth star in “Gunner,” which was filmed in the Bessemer and McCalla areas.
All of those films are in post-production and have not been released. “Gunner” is scheduled for release June 6, according to IMDB.
Another movie, “Bad Man”, starring Seann William Scott, filmed in Helena in December.
Jones said one filmmaker’s positive experience in Alabama can lead to others wanting to come here.
“The film and entertainment community, they talk to each other and when people have had a pleasant experience and pleasant time and things have gone well, then other people hear about that and it kind of continues,” he said.
Can Alabama expect the star power to continue this year?
“We have several coming to different areas of the state that we will probably be announcing in a few months,” Jones said.
While social media focuses on the stars, it’s the dollars that matter most.
The film industry has close to a $200 million annual economic impact on Alabama and is responsible for 1,700 full-time jobs, Jones told the Economic Development Association of Alabama at its 2024 Winter Conference recently.
“Our whole purpose is not just to bring movies here, but it’s really to drive local economies and it’s to provide jobs,” Jones said.
Those jobs could be film-related, such as camera operators, sound technicians, lighting, actors or extras. But they can also include carpenters, painters, electricians, designers and others working on sets, or support jobs like caterers or drivers.
“Whenever these companies come in, they want to know, ‘Ok, if I come to this city, if I come to this state, will there be people there that we can hire?’” Jones said.
The Alabama Film Office maintains three databases – one for workers available to perform industry-related jobs, one for businesses available to provide support to the film industry and one for locations available for filming.
Jone said Alabama is blessed with a wide range of locations that can be the setting for most films.
“We can do everything from the mountains up in north Alabama to urban cities, urban areas like Birmingham and Mobile,” he said. “Then, of course, we’ve got the beautiful Gulf Coast beaches. We can basically do everything except the desert and the Arctic.”
For instance, Birmingham and Mobile have substituted for New York and Chicago in some films. Last year’s “Jesus Revolution” was set in California, but it shot for three days there and three weeks at Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
Jones said in places like Los Angeles and New York where filming is commonplace, the locals can view it as a hassle.
“In Alabama, it’s right the opposite,” he said. “Not only are people not bothered, they’re excited. Instead of like, ‘Oh, this is a nuisance,’ it’s like ‘Oh, this is great! This is cool! I can’t believe Matthew McConaughey was on my block.’”
The demand for places to film has never been higher, thanks in large part to the growth of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Paramount Plus, Hulu, Disney Plus and the list of other streaming services.
“Original content continues to be what’s driving the business, and not just for traditional theatrical movies but all of the … streaming services need that original content,” Jones said. “That’s where we come in in providing some great locations, some great cities and a great pool of Alabamians. We have more and more Alabamians who have experience working on productions. When these productions come in, they can hire Alabamians for these.”
When they do so, they get a greater incentive.
Alabama offers a 25% rebate on state taxes to help filmmakers offset production costs. But if they hire Alabamians for the work, that rebate is 35%. The incentive is capped at $20 million each year. By hiring local, the production saves the expense of bringing in people from outside the state and paying for their lodging and other expenses. And on top of that, they get a greater rebate on what they spend here.
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