Filmmakers actively seek places with established resources and competitive economic incentives when making movies, which has contributed to the boom the Mississippi film industry has experienced in recent years. Mississippi regularly hosts film festivals to highlight the roles and talents of independent filmmakers because these artists understand that film is more than just an industry.
“There’s still a real joy, a passion for the craft here,” said Hattiesburg-based actor, writer, director, producer and USM professor Miles Doleac. “There’s been this wonderful, familial quality to the sets of the two films I’ve shot here. Nobody’s jaded yet. Actors who have come in from [Los Angeles] or New York to work on my shows have commented on the distinct differences, almost all of them positive, between shooting here and shooting in a major media market.”
Several important factors, including a tax-incentive rebate program for film production, comprise these “distinct differences.”
“Our incentive program is competitive with any state in the country,” Doleac said. “That’s a big deal and it’s particularly useful for independent filmmakers like myself.”
In 2014, the Sundance Film Festival reported at the festival that less than two percent of independent film investments were recouped at the festival, which represents a fairly accurate sample of the industry.
“Independent film budgets are so very tight, and to be able to recoup a portion of expenditure that can be used for post production, film festivals [or] marketing [is terrific],” Doleac said. “It can [also] be returned to investors as an additional incentive for investment in a given project. It’s a terrific thing and our legislature has really been on top of things in this regard.”
Additionally, Mississippi’s “significant geographic and architectural diversity” make it an attractive location for filmmakers.
“Mississippi offers some truly amazing locations,” Doleac said. “It can be almost anywhere, [and] it certainly doesn’t hurt to have been next door to Louisiana, where production has become a staple industry over the last decade. We’ve gotten the benefit of a close look by the industry just based on proximity to the Louisiana market, especially when their tax incentive program got scaled back last year.”
Doleac is particularly thankful for the support he finds while filming in Mississippi.
“There seems to be a lot of goodwill of general agreement that film production can be a huge economic and cultural boom to our state,” he said. “There are very few folks who don’t think the growth of this industry is a good thing and you feel that when you shoot here.”
Doleac hopes the Mississippi boom will continue into the future and is determined to make sure it does.
“I’m committed to doing whatever I can do to keep growing the industry here,” he said. “We have some work to do, especially with regard to building crew in infrastructure, but we’re doing a lot of good things and moving in the right direction.”
Doleac said building a vibrant film festival scene is an essential component to ensuring enduring success.
“We’ve taken steps in that direction with [the] FestivalSouth Film Expo, hosted by the Grand Theatre in Hattiesburg [from May 30 to June 3], and Sun and Sand on the Coast,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we may be on the verge of taking one giant step backward. The so-called ‘Religious Liberty Accommodations Act’ [that moved] through the legislature will certainly thwart our ability to attract significant film and television production. In my view, the bill blatantly discriminates against the LGBT community to a greater extent than the Georgia legislation that had productions, including ‘The Walking Dead,’ threatening to leave that state. If it becomes law, Hollywood will avoid us like the plague.”
Doleac starred in and directed “The Hollow,” a 2016 thriller shot in Hattiesburg, Sumrall, Seminary, Lumberton and Hot Coffee. “The Hollow” features a star-studded cast and was produced by the renowned Lisa Bruce, who also produced “The Theory of Everything.”
“Many ‘southern’ films are made and scripted by non- southerners, but because Miles is from Mississippi and he wrote and directed it, the realness of place — the geography, the heat, the flies, the accents, the pace of life, the cultural preoccupations are woven throughout this one in a rich, intimate way that is absent from so many other so called ‘southern’ films,” Bruce said in a recent interview.