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Shooting Films Like 'Ozark' In Missouri: Tax Credits Could Pave The Way, But At What Cost?

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Shooting 'Ozark'

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Netflix series “Ozark” is shot in Georgia, with the exception of a few scenes filmed at the show’s true setting, Lake of the Ozarks.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was filmed in North Carolina.

“The Assassination of Jesses James by the Coward Robert Ford” was mostly set in Missouri, but filmed in Canada.

Since Missouri’s film tax credit expired in November of 2013, movies about Missouri have been shot elsewhere. A proposed bill making its way through the Missouri House would reinstate the tax credit and, supporters hope, bring film projects back into the state. It’s known as the Show Missouri Film and Digital Media Act.

House Bill 923, sponsored by Rep. Kathryn Swan (R - Cape Girardeau), would create a 20 percent tax credit for qualifying in-state expenses and a 10 percent tax credit for qualifying out-of-state expenses for film producers that are longer than 30 minutes and spend at least $100,000 shooting the film in Missouri. If more than 50 percent of the film is shot in Missouri, an additional 5 percent of in-state and out-of-state expenses can be earned as tax credits.

Missouri’s film tax credit until 2013 was 35 percent.

These tax credits essentially amount to a discount on products and services for film producers who are shooting in the state.

The hit Netflix series ‘Ozark’ has thrust Missouri—specifically the Lake of the Ozarks—into the national imagination, and has left many wondering why only a few sparse scenes were shot at the Lake of the Ozarks. It comes down to money.

Shooting 'Ozark' On The Water

photo by Jackson Davis, courtesy of Netflix

The independent film (with breakout role for Jennifer Lawrence) “Winter’s Bone,” set in the Missouri Ozarks, was filmed there, with a $2 million budget. However, Missouri’s film tax credit was in place at the time (2010).

“Gone Girl,” set in North Carthage, Missouri, was actually filmed in Missouri, although in Cape Girardeau. But it, too was filmed during the time of Missouri tax credits: in September and October of 2013. The tax credits expired a month later.

Swan’s office could not be immediately reached for comment, but former Lake of the Ozarks area state rep and current Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe has vocally supported a comparable Senate bill.

“Lake Ozark, Branson area, would really like to work to try to attract some moviemaking,” Kehoe told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this year.

At the Lake, local state reps disagree on the film tax.

While acknowledging, “It’s hard to say that a tax credit is conservative,” Rep. Rocky Miller (R-124) said, “I think it’s a good idea.” He thinks the state will see a net gain from the credit.

Suzie Pollock (R-123), on the other hand, does not support it. “I hate tax credits,” she told LakeExpo.com. “[They are a] waste of money and they are only required to have one scene in an entire movie to get the credits.”

She added, “I am usually a ‘no’ on tax credits. We have more than any other state!”

Miller acknowledges many of Missouri’s tax credits don’t actually help the state or its residents, but he says the film tax credit might be different. “It has a lot of guaranteed money” spent in the state, he said, so it could actually be worth it.

The Show-Me Institute, a Missouri think tank that advocates for limited government, published an article by Patrick Tuohey on April 29 titled, “Film Tax Credits Still A Bad Idea.”

“The devil is always in the details,” explained Zach Lawhorn, of the Show-Me Institute.

The Show-Me Institute article points out the Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission said the film tax credit should have been eliminated in 2011. The commission argued, “This tax credit serves too narrow of an industry and fails to provide a positive return on investment to the state. There is currently no longterm opportunity for the location of production facilities for films in Missouri.”

According to a state brochure, the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act "grants an income tax credit of 20 percent to qualified productions which include feature films, television movies or series, documentaries, commercials and music videos. Most projects are also eligible to receive an additional 10 percent Georgia Entertainment Promotion (GEP) tax credit for including an embedded Georgia Entertainment Promotion Logo in the end credits of the finished product and include a link to ExploreGeorgia.org/Film on their promotional website."

Georgia might bribe filmmakers to come to their state, but Tuohey concludes Missouri's proposed film tax credit amounts to “picking winners and losers,” and he calls that "just bad policy."

Meanwhile, shooting for 'Ozark' Season 3 began in March, in Georgia, but is not expected to finish until this fall. Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau Executive Director Tim Jacobsen says the CVB has been contacted by Media Rights Capital to get aerial boating footage and Bagnell Dam footage for parts of Season 3 during Memorial Day weekend. Season 3 is expected to be released in late-spring or early-summer of 2020.

HB 923 has cleared the Fiscal Review committee and has been placed on the Informal Third Reading Calendar for the House.

The Senate version, SB 366, was voted Do Pass by the Senate Economic Development Committee on April 2, and is not currently on a Senate calendar.

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