Chicago Tribune
James Dowd, Commercial Appeal
May 10, 2012

The film industry is an economic engine for Tennessee, one that deserves more support from state government.

That’s why state Sen. Mark Norris says he sponsored a measure, passed by the General Assembly this session, that will provide an estimated $2 million in additional funding for Tennessee’s film incentive program.

The Collierville Republican made the announcement Wednesday at the Carnival Memphis business industry salute luncheon.

Fittingly, the annual event this year honored the local film and movie industry.

“Not only has the film industry created a wellspring in our state, but it is a significant economic engine,” Norris said. “This legislation should make Tennessee more attractive to filmmakers and position us in the top tier of states that embrace independent productions.”

The repeal of the refundable tax credit available to film productions, sponsored by Norris, will mean projects with budgets topping $200,000 are eligible for grants equal to 25 percent of qualified Tennessee expenditures.

That’s a much-needed increase above the previous 17 percent grant rate and a 15 percent refundable tax credit that was only available projects with budgets exceeding $1 million, said Carnival Memphis honoree Linn Sitler.

“We’re not able to compete with states such as Georgia and Louisiana because they have state income taxes that in effect allow them to offer much broader incentives to movie and film productions,” said Sitler, commissioner with the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission.

“This program now makes us a state of choice for projects with small budgets. It’s important because it’s not just symbolic; there’s an attractive financial component attached.”

And those incentives should entice more productions to film in Memphis and throughout the state, said Stephen Lightman, president of Malco Theatres. The ripple effect could be substantial.

“We’re lucky to be in such a magical business and have the geniuses of Hollywood create our product,” said Lightman, who along with Bobby Levy and Jimmy Tashie received the Carnival Memphis Cook Halle Award. “Memphis is our home base and we’re very interested in seeing it succeed and grow. Having more productions filmed here opens up this great city to new audiences across the country and around the world.”

Proceeds from Wednesday’s event, expected to surpass $100,000, benefited the Chickasaw Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Jubilee Schools and School Advocates for Vision and Education.

Since 1999, Carnival Memphis has raised more than $1.3 million for children’s charities.

This year’s installment, which attracted more than 425 community members, was one of the best-attended in the organization’s history, leaders said.

“This is one of the most fascinating industry appreciation events I’ve ever been involved with because it’s showcasing some amazing people,” said Ed Galfsky, executive director of Carnival Memphis. “There are so many interesting people with compelling stories in our community and the movie and film industry is evidence of that.”

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— James Dowd: (901) 529-2737

Carnival Honorees

Cook Halle Award: Stephen Lightman, Robert Levy and Jimmy Tashie of Malco Theatres Inc.

King’s Award: Bill Courtney, entrepreneur and volunteer Manassas High School football coach who was profiled in the Academy Award-winning documentary “Undefeated”

President’s Award: Linn Sitler, commissioner with the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission

Chairman’s Award: Craig Brewer, writer and director

Honored Businesses and Organizations: The William Bearden Co.; John Beifuss, film critic for The Commercial Appeal; Dean Film & Video; Graceworks Pictures; Heritage Entertainment Group; Indie Memphis Film Festival; On Location: MEMPHIS Film Festival; the Orpheum theater; the Film and Video program in the Department of Communication at the University of Memphis

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