There is no doubt that the state's film incentives have revolutionized the movie industry in Mississippi.
Before 2004, when the Legislature passed the first version of the Mississippi Film Office's film-incentive program, Hollywood film crews were relatively infrequent visitors to the Magnolia State.
On the backs of the film business in nearby New Orleans, and with reinforcement from the state's incentive package—which rebates of 25 percent to 35 percent of the money a production spends in the state—Mississippi is slowly becoming a film powerhouse. As Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Film Office, notes in this week's cover story ("Anywhere, USA: The State of Film in Mississippi," pp 13-14), each film brings along with it "anywhere from 50 to 250 new people."
These new people eat in our restaurants and sleep in our hotel and motel beds, and help spur tax revenues in cities like Jackson that in recent years hosted such major film productions John Krasinski's "The Hollars," the James Brown biopic "Get On Up," and "Same Kind of Different As Me" with Renee Zellweger and Djimon Hounsou.
But because these productions often bring a large portion of their crews from cities like New Orleans and Los Angeles, hiring only a handful of local actors and crew members, the next phase of film incentives should revolve around investing more in local film workforce training.
Don't get us wrong. We certainly appreciate the presence of the productions. But to echo local Jackson officials, a real opportunity exists to build capacity right here in the capital city.
As Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber said this week during a city council meeting about building capacity within city departments: "Workforce training is about more than putting money in people's pockets. It's about training people so that when this job is over, they can do something else."
In other words, training locals to work in the film industry means that we're not only growing the talent pool for out-of-town productions, but also the possibility for more homegrown projects and ancillary film businesses.
To date, many of our two- and four-year colleges in the Jackson area have been slow to develop training programs that would expand the pool of qualified local film crewmembers. In the next round of budget negotiations, the Legislature should consider supporting Mississippi schools wishing to establish or beef up their film-production programs. We may be a bit removed from the "Year of the Creative Economy," but our state's creative elements are still proving to be viable sources for economic growth.
We would also call on officials in Jackson and other municipalities to also look for ways to support film-related workforce development as well.