Showing posts with label production incentives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label production incentives. Show all posts

CASE STUDY: The Outliers Of 2015 - Small Movies With Biggest Profits (+ MY TAKEAWAYS)

A snapshot of what these 2015 low-budget films did to make a profit.
Deadline just published a good article with breakdowns of the numbers of 5 "small" films (by Hollywood standards) that had big profits. I was curious to probe a bit more into why these films were able to make a profit and came across a couple of recurring themes which I elaborate on in the FILM STRATEGY TAKEAWAY: their use of the horror genre, that the films are based on a well-known novel or sequel, their exploitation of production incentives, their release on a day with no competition and more. Check it out:

Each year when Deadline runs its film profitability countdown, readers understandably ask about wildly profitable films, usually genre pictures, that don’t merit inclusion on the basis of highest domestic gross. But that doesn’t mean these films don’t tell compelling stories in their own right. So this time, we included snapshots of five overachieving pictures. The final four films in our tournament will roll out Monday, along with every one of the revenue charts.

Fox Searchlight 

The original 2012 film was a spectacularly successful sleeper hit for Fox Searchlight, hitting an adult audience in its sweet spot and grossing $136M worldwide on a $10M budget. The sequel didn’t hit that number, but it held the production budget to the same level, while adding Richard Gere. The global box office was $85M, and the participations to talent were on the low side. The picture turned out a net profit of $10.85M to Fox, for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.14. 

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: "Marigold Hotel 2" benefited from a March 6, 2015 release date. The only real competition were Chappie and Unfinished Business. Huh? Exactly. No real competition. Besides Chappie and Unfinished Business were not after the same demo as Marigold Hotel 2 which was the "older moviegoing audience" i.e. aging hippies and retired folks with leisure time. It also benefitted for being the sequel to a sleeper hit which was based on the book These Foolish Things (which was also sold under the title The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. So this formula amounts to: release in a slow month for movies + sequel based on a hit + aim for an underserved audience = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)


20th Century Fox 

Paper Towns was Fox and author John Green’s follow-up to the wildly successful YA movie The Fault In Our Stars, which grossed $307M worldwide. Let’s call Paper Towns a single, by comparison. The picture turned in a global box office performance of $85M, on a $12M budget. The outlays to talent were minimal. So the net profit to Fox was $14M, for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.18. No wonder Green’s books are still in such hot demand as film properties.

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: This time the movie was based on a YA novel so it had a built-in audience. The writer of the novel, John Green, had optioned the rights to the film in 2008 and the screenwriters involved, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, had success with another adaptation of Green's work, The Fault in Our Stars. Even though the film takes place in Orlando, it was shot in North Carolina to take advantage of generous production incentives. The producers were so eager to use the incentives that they made sure the cast and crew finished filming before December 31, 2014, the date on which certain tax incentives would have expired. The producers decided to use the release date strategically. The film was released on July 24, 2015. Even though it was released in the summer which is prone to blockbusters, Paper Towns had no real competition to threaten attracting its demo (The Vatican Tapes? Samba? Smosh: The Movie? Pixels?). Finally, the soundtrack relied on less mainstream artists that would be familiar with YA audiences such as Twin Shadow, Santigold, Grouplove, HAIM, Vampire Weekend, The Mountain Goats, The War on Drugs, and Galantis. So this formula amounts to: exploit generous production incentives + aim for a YA audience of Green fans + release on a day of no real competition + create a soundtrack of cool non-mainstream artists those YA audiences would like = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)



The Blumhouse genre film launched in April without much fanfare, from Timur Bekmambetov’s Russia-based film factory Bazelevs. The key here is that the makers delivered this movie for a $1M budget, and it reached the mainstream. The picture grossed $64M globally, and participations were minimal. That meant that the net profit on this little but overachieving murder mystery with supernatural elements was a whopping $17.3M, for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.3.

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: First of all the genre is found footage horror which allows for the film to be low-budget AND get away with looking low budget. The producers engaged in an endurance speed-a-thon to finish the film. Production was 16 days total, including six 12-hour days of principal photography, three days of pick-ups and then a few more reshoots. Unfriended then had a slow rollout which it used to build a buzz and test it with audiences. According to Wikipedia, Unfriended initially had its world premiere on July 20, 2014 at the Fantasia Festival and screened on the film festival circuit under the title of "Cybernatural." A generally positive film festival reception and test screenings for the film prompted Universal Pictures to pick up the film rights with the intent to give it a wide theatrical release the following year. The film was screened at Playlist Live on February 6, 2015 (a popular convention for internet celebrities from Vine and YouTube) and premiered at SXSW on March 13, 2015. The film's title was changed from "Cybernatural" to "Unfriended" and the film was theatrically released on April 17, 2015. April 17 did not provide for any major competition with the likes of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Child 44 and Monkey Kingdom being released on the same day. The filmmakers also tried to use social media strategically to organically create interest for the film. 

  • On March 13, 2015, the day of the film's official premiere at SXSW, scenes from the film were uploaded and a chat box appeared, where viewers could talk to Laura. Once she was finished talking, scenes appeared on the screen. 
  • On February 13, 2015, a campaign was launched with Kik Messenger, in which Kik users could have a chat conversation with Laura. This made use of automated responses and pre-scripted responses, while also driving users to a dedicated microsite. 
  • During production, official Facebook and Skype accounts were set up for the characters in the film, and, after the premiere at SXSW, people who attended were "friended" by the official Laura Barns Facebook account. There was also a Twitter account, which tweeted attendees of the after-party. (Wiki)

So this formula amounts to: make a found footage horror film which can be done cheaply and look cheap + generate buzz via film fest screenings + release on a day of little competition + create a virtual world of the film that fans can participate in via social media = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)


Universal Pictures 

Another highly profitable Blumhouse-produced genre film success for Universal, this one with M. Night Shyamalan. The picture cost just $5M to make, and when these babies hit at that budget level, the returns can be scary. The global box office was $98M, and while the participations were higher than on Unfriended, the gross was much higher as well. So the studio’s net profit on The Visit was $43M, for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.61. A smashing result to the studio’s bottom line.

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: This is another found footage horror film which also allows for low budgets and a low budget look. The film went through multiple editing phases starting out as an art house horror film before becoming a dark comedy to then finding a blend between the two for its release. The film was also shot in PA which has generous production incentives. Finally The Visit was released on 9/11 which is after the official end of summer movies and a date that most studios would prefer not to release a major film on. Plus it was a horror film that was released before all the other horror films competing for Halloween would come out on. So this formula amounts to: make a found footage horror film which can be done cheaply and look cheap + shoot in a state with generous production incentives + release on a day of little competition = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)

Focus Features

The third installment of the fright franchise — and another one from Blumhouse — slipped from the high-water mark of Insidious 2, but it was still great business. The original, made for just $1.5M, grossed $97M worldwide. The sequel carried a $5M budget and brought in a whopping $161M globally. The third installment carried a $10M budget and grossed $112M worldwide. The participations and bonuses reached that budget, but the film was still a profit-maker. The net profit was $44M for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.6.

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: This is the third horror film on this list and one based on a hit series so it already had buzz and credibility with an audience built of fans who recognized the brand. It also used social media to generate anticipation. According to Wikipedia, on October 23, 2014 the same day the teaser trailer came out, director Leigh Whannell invited fans to join him for a live Q&A session on the movie's official Facebook page. A few days later, on October 28, 2014 the same Facebook page reached 4 million fans. On December 17, 2014, fans were invited to connect with Insidious on Kik Messenger for exclusive content. The producers also created events in select cities to great fanfare. On March 16, 2015, Focus Features debuted a teaser for the full official trailer that was eventually released the following day, on March 17, 2015, during a series of launch events in selected cities, including Miami (where lead star Stefanie Scott held a Q&A session), Chicago (with supporting actress Hayley Kiyoko in attendance), and New York City (where Fangoria Magazine hosted a Q&A session with Lin Shaye). Finally, it launched on June 5, 2015 which had no real competition in its genre or in general (Spy and Entourage being the most prominent films released that day). So this formula amounts to: make a horror film which can be done cheaply + base it on a film with brand recognition + release on a day of little competition = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)

For help in formulating a strategy for your film as well as using production incentives, contact me at

PRODUCTION TIPS: Production Incentives for the Low Budget Filmmaker

Filmmakers have a frustrating love/hate relationship with money; they love spending it and hate the stress of getting it. The frustration is understandable as filmmaking is one of the most expensive art forms to pursue. In many other countries, filmmaking is not a purely capitalist enterprise. Instead, they are largely subsidized by the government because they find them culturally important. While some American filmmakers prefer a lack of government involvement, it's no secret that American productions are subsidized to some extent in the form of production incentives.  

Production incentives are tax benefits provided by the states on state-by-state basis as a way to bring the film business to the states. These programs began as a response to Canada's cheap production incentives in the 90s that lured many film productions. As a result, the US states adopted progressively generous incentives to bring them back. Hollywood and government officials tend to be big boosters of the production incentive programs as they tout its effects in job growth and bringing in tourism. But many others have critiqued these incentive programs as failing to give states an economic boost and questioning their effectivenes, as some states benefit more than others

Big budget studio filmmakers tend to be the ones who benefit most from production incentives since the majority of these benefits don't kick in until hundreds of thousands of dollars, at a minimum, have been spent. It's clear that production incentives were not made for the no to low budget indie filmmaker in mind. BUT there are a few states that do offer production incentives* within the spending range of a low budget filmmaker i.e. filmmakers spending from $25K to $100K. And, at the end of this list, you will even find a few states that offer incentives no matter what the budget.

$25,000 Production Incentives

  • West Virginia
    • "The West Virginia Film Industry Investment Act is a competitive tool used to recruit film industry business into the state.  The Act provides up to 31% tax credits for in-state spend (27% base, plus 4% for 10 or more resident crew or talent hires). Funded at $5 million annually; no caps; minimum spend of $25,000. Eligible projects include feature length films, TV films and series, commercials, music videos, and commercial still photography. Please visit the following pages for guidelinesforms, and overview."

$50,000 Production Incentives

  • Kentucky
    • "Documentaries and Broadway productions are eligible with an expenditure minimum of $50,000.  Applications for film production incentives will be reviewed and approved by the Kentucky Film Office, Secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, the Finance and Administration Cabinet and the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority. "
  • Massachusetts
    • "Film producers are eligible for a 25 percent production credit, a 25 percent payroll credit, and a sales tax exemption. Any project that spends more than $50,000 in Massachusetts qualifies for the payroll credit. Spending more than 50 percent of total budget or filming at least 50 percent of the principal photography days in Massachusetts makes the project eligible for the production credit and a sales tax exemption. There are no annual or project caps, no residency requirements, and no extended schedule of credit payouts." 
  • Mississippi
    • "The Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive Program provides a cash rebate on eligible expenditures and payroll and provides sales and use tax reductions on eligible rentals/purchases. This program is available for nationally distributed motion pictures, television programs, DVDs, documentaries, short films, commercials, video games, including animation and production utilizing new technology. National distribution includes theatrical, broadcast, festival screening, streaming video, and Internet delivery. There is a $50,000 minimum Mississippi investment (local spend) per project. There is a $10 million per project rebate cap. There is a $20 million annual rebate cap. There is no minimum requirement for production days or percentage of production spend. Under the Mississippi Investment Rebate, a production is eligible for a 25 percent rebate on their base investment. Additionally, there is a 30 percent Resident Payroll Rebate and a 25 percent Non-Resident Payroll Rebate. A production is eligible for an additional 5 percent rebate on salaries paid to veterans. Qualifying production equipment used directly in the filming/editing of project will be taxed at a reduced rate of 1.5 percent." 
  • Oklahoma
    • "The Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate offers up to 37% on Oklahoma expenditures to qualifying companies filming in the state capped at $5 million per year."

$75,000 Production Incentives

  • Alaska
    • "Applicants can qualify for up to 58 percent in a transferable tax credit on qualified production expenditures in Alaska. Eligible projects are broadly defined as film, documentary, commercials, and video projects. The state requires a minimum of $75,000 of qualified expenditures in Alaska, and there are no production or salary caps. Also, Alaska has no state sales or income tax."
  • Maine
    • "Filmmakers can receive tax rebates equal to 12% of qualified wages paid to Maine residents working on a certified production and 10% of nonresident wages. Qualified wages capped at $50,000 per person. Claim a non refundable, non transferable tax credits equal to 5% of the non wage production expenses. Credit not to exceed the Maine taxes owed by the production company. *Must be claimed within production year. Productions may be considered for the FAME seed capital tax credit program. Purchase fuel and electricity for productions and avoid almost all state energy taxes. Hotel/motel accommodations for cast and crew without paying state lodging tax if the stay is 28 days or more. No location fees for qualified productions filming on state land. Set up production offices using office furniture and equipment from state surplus."
  • Oregon
    • "The Oregon Production Investment Fund offers qualifying film or television productions a 20 percent cash rebate on production-related goods and services paid to Oregon vendors and a 10 percent cash rebate of wages paid for work done in Oregon including both Oregon and non-Oregon residents. The labor portion of this rebate can be combined with the Greenlight Oregon program for an effective labor rebate of 16.2 percent. A production must directly spend at least $1 million in Oregon to qualify. There is no per production cap. The 2009 Oregon legislature passed SB863 which created the Indigenous Oregon Production Investment Fund (i-OPIF). The i-OPIF program will provide rebates of 20 percent of goods and services and 10 percent of Oregon labor for films produced by LOCAL Oregon filmmakers who spend a minimum of $75,000, up to the first $1 million of their spend. Also, the state has no general sales and use tax and lodging taxes are waived for rooms held longer than 30 days."

$100,000 Production Incentives

  • Colorado
    • "The Colorado Film Incentive program offers a 20 percent cash rebate for production costs taking place in the state. The incentive program covers feature films, television pilots, television series (broadcast and cable), television commercials, music videos, industrials, documentaries, video game design and creation, and other forms of content creation. Bonded productions are eligible to have 100 percent of their projected rebate escrowed up front with the bond company. An additional component of the program is a loan guarantee program with the State guaranteeing up to 20 percent of a production budget. This program is only available to film productions. A production may be eligible for both the performance-based incentive and the loan guarantee programs. To be eligible, a Colorado production company must have qualified local expenditures of at least $100,000. An outof-state production company must have at least $1 million in qualified local expenditures (the exception being television commercials and video game productions, which must have qualified local expenditures of $250,000)."
  • Connecticut
    • More like a minimum expenditure of $100,001 - "Production companies incurring production expenses or costs between $100,000 and $500,000 are eligible for a 10 percent credit, between $500,000 and $1 million are eligible for a 15 percent credit, and over $1 million continue to be eligible for a 30 percent credit. The state also offers a tax credit for infrastructure costs, and exemptions for property, sales and hotel taxes." 
  • Florida
    • "Florida offers a base transferrable tax credit of 20 percent to 30 percent. Additional bonus credits of 5 percent are available for certain types of productions. There are three incentive categories: (1) General Production Queue: qualifying productions include films, TV (TV series may be ineligible), documentaries, digital media projects, commercials and music videos. A minimum of $625,000 must be spent and the maximum incentive award is $8,000,000. (2) Commercial and Music Video Queue: A minimum of $100,000 per commercial or music video must be spent. A production company must spend at least $500,000 within on fiscal year to apply (projects can be bundled). The maximum incentive is $500,000 per fiscal year. (3) Independent Emerging Media Production Queue: Films, TV, documentaries and digital media projects are eligible. A minimum of $100,000 must be spent and a maximum of $625,000 can be spent to qualify. The maximum incentive awarded is $125,000. Also, Effective January 1, 2001, any qualified production company engaged in Florida in the production of motion pictures, made for television motion pictures, television series, commercial advertising, music videos or sound recordings may be eligible for a sales and use tax exemption on the purchase or lease of certain items used exclusively as an integral part of the production activities in Florida. The state does not levy a state income tax."
  • Michigan
    • "No retroactive qualifying expenditures. Start counting your qualifying dollars on the date of APPROVAL. 25% of direct production expenditures and qualified personnel expenditures. Claim an extra 3% for expenditures at a qualified facility or post production facility or 10% for expenditures at qualified post-production facility. Form (to be filled out by the facility) Caps: Incentive for ATL personnel capped at 30% of total incentive. Application fee equal to .2% of the funding request (minimum $200, max $5,000)" 
  • Minnesota
    • "Rebates have increased to up to 25% of qualified MN expenditures, above the line talent (non-resident) will be included as an eligible rebate cost (cap $100K per person), and a production that spends more than $1M in MN will automatically qualify at 25% and will be audited by an independent auditor paid for by MN Film and TV."
  • Puerto Rico
    • "Puerto Rico has a transferrable tax credit equivalent to 40 percent of budget items paid to Puerto Rico entity or resident. There is also a 20 percent tax credit on nonresident qualified spending. 100,000 minimum spend per project."
  • Rhode Island
    • "The Motion Picture Production Tax Credit provides a 25 percent transferrable tax credit for costs incurred directly attributable to activity within the state. It also includes salaries for people working on the ground in the state. To qualify, a minimum of $100,000 must be spent, and at least 51 percent of shooting must take place in Rhode Island. There is a $15 million annual cap on the program and a $5 million cap per project, which may be waived." 

$???? Production Incentives - No Clear Minimum Spend 

  • Illinois
    • "The Film Production Tax Credit Act, which offers producers a transferrable credit of 30 percent of all qualified expenditures, including post-production, and will not sunset until 2021 (it is renewable in 5 year increments after 2021). Other benefits include: 30% of the qualified Illinois Production Spending." 
  • New Jersey
    • "New Jersey offers a tax credit in an amount equal to 20 percent of qualified production expenses, available to production companies meeting certain criteria, chiefly: (1) At least 60 percent of the total expenses of a project, exclusive of post-production costs, will be incurred for services performed and goods used or consumed in New Jersey. (2) Principal photography of a project commences within 150 days after the approval of the application for the credit. Certain tangible property used directly and primarily in the production of films and television programs is also exempt from New Jersey's 7 percent sales tax."
  • New Mexico
    • "No minimum amount, however, the production must shoot at least one day in New Mexico. New Mexico offers a 25 percent tax rebate on all direct production expenditures, including New Mexico crew, that are subject to taxation by the State of New Mexico. It applies to feature films, independent films, television, regional and national commercials, documentaries, video games and post-production. Non-resident actors and stunt performers will also qualify under a separate tax structure. An additional 5 percent credit is available for either (1) direct production expenditures for qualifying television series; or (2) payments to resident crew (wages and fringes only) for services during production in New Mexico if a production utilize a qualifying soundstage for a minimum of 10 or 15 days of principal photography. (Days required are determined by total New Mexico budget.) New Mexico also offers the Film Crew Advancement Program, which is an incentive for production companies to help create more job opportunities for New Mexican film and television crew professionals. A production company is reimbursed 50% of a participant’s wages for up to 1040 hours physically worked by the qualifying crew member in a specialized craft position. Also, as an incentive, the state will issue a certificate which is presented at the point of sale and no gross receipts tax is charged. This incentive cannot be used in conjunction with the 25 percent tax rebate. In 2011, the legislature placed a $50 million cap on film production credits and staggered payment schedules over two or three years."
  • New York
    • "The state offers a Film Production Credit a 30 percent fully-refundable tax credit on qualified expenses while filming in the state. If the production spends less than $3 million on all costs related to work done at a qualified production facility, then a minimum of 75 percent of the principal photography days shot on location must be in New York State. This threshold requirement applies to location days only. Principal shoot days at a facility must not be included in the calculation of the 75 percent A 30 percent to 35 percent post production tax credit is also available, regardless of filming location. Refundable tax credits available for qualified commercials with added incentives for companies increasing volume of work in New York are available and there are film production activities/expenses that are exempt from state and local sales and use taxes. Also a film investment tax credit of up to 5 percent on investments in construction and upgrades to qualified film production facilities plus employment incentive tax credits for two additional years."
  • Pennsylvania
    • "Pennsylvania offers a 25% Tax Credit to films that spend at least 60% of their total production budget in the Commonwealth. Projects eligible for Film Tax Credits under the Program are: the production of a feature film, a television film, a television talk or game show series, a television commercial, a television pilot or each episode of a television series intended as a programming for a national audience. Applications may be filed no sooner than 90 days prior to the start date of principal photography in the Commonwealth. We will be reviewing and approving application packages within a 90 day period: July 1st through September 30th; October 1st through December 31st; January 1st through March 31st; and April 1st through June 30th. Film Tax Credit Guidelines 2014Project Audit for projects in receipt of a Film Tax Credit $100,000 or greater, or Report on Agreed Upon Procedures for projects with a Film Tax Credit of less than $100,000."
  • Vermont
    • "A hotel tax exemption, sales and use tax exemption for direct production expenses and income tax for performers limited to the amount performers would pay in their home states."

*"Production incentives" are a catch-all term for the different benefits a state can provide to a production. They can consist of one or all of the following:
  • Tax Credits
  • Cash Rebates
  • Grants
  • Sales Tax Exemptions
  • Lodging Exemptions
  • Fee Free Exemptions
  • Miscellaneous Enhancements
  • State Specific Benefits
To help navigate each state's incentive programs, hire a production lawyer and accountant. Or a savvy strategic producer. The information above is current as of January 2015. Please visit each state's sites for the latest information, requirements and details to apply.

PRODUCTION TIPS: 5 U.S. State Production Incentives for a $25K (or less) Budget

(from 2012, subject to change)

Making a film is a constant battle against the odds; odds that you will finish the script, that you will get the money to shoot it; that you will actually shoot it; that you will have the money to cut it; that you will finish cutting it; that you will have the money to put it in festivals; that you will actually get it in festivals; that you will have the money to market it and get a producer's rep to sell it or four-wall it yourself; and, that you will make any money on it or just break-even. Maybe it's not all about the money but it's a damned good chunk of it. That's why getting to recoupment stage is rarefied air for filmmakers and must feel like raising the flag at Iwo Jima.

Big budget films are expected to eventually make money but even a low-budget film can be made to recoup or break-even with creative financing.  Creative financing involves harnessing all the ways to raise funds for a film no matter what the budget using self-financing, investor vehicles, securities, gifts, grants and subsidies (studio financing could also be part of it but it isn't a reality for the majority of filmmakers, so I left it out for now).  When people hear subsidies or tax incentives or credits or rebates, they immediately assume that they are only relevant for films with six figure budgets or higher. And they are mostly true.  But there are more than a few states that offer subsidies and incentives for budgets or spends of $65,000, $50,000 and even less than $25,000. 

So the hypothetical question is, what production tax incentives* would I seek for a budget of $25,000 or less?  There are at least 5 U.S. states I would consider moving my production to to take advantage of the incentives.  This is assuming the states meet the condition necessary to bring your film to life; it's the right location as envisioned in the script, there is an available cast and crew to go and work there, it's close to your home state (if it's not already your home state) and equipment is easily available or transportable.  

There are also some caveats when you seek incentives and subsidies.  First of all, tax incentives or government subsidies are just another source of financing.  They reduce the net expenditure of a film by 10% to 15%.  Thus, they can only be one slice of the financing pie not the pie itself.  Second of all, because every state offers different incentives with different criteria the state that offers the incentives you seek might be too far away to be worth your time to move your production there.  Or they do not offer the proper location you seek, for ex. New Mexico may offer the best incentives for your production but your story takes place in the Arctic.  In that situation, changing the script's location is a possibility but that judgment call shouldn't be made simply for the incentive.  Thirdly, tax incentives are subject to constant legislative changes.  The state that today had the incentive you like could have repealed it by the time you actually need it tomorrow.  Fortunately, the 5 states are sprinkled across the map and cover the northwestern, southwestern and eastern areas thus affording proximity to many filmmakers.

So with a budget of $25,000 or less, I would seriously consider shooting and editing in the following states:

  • There is no minimum spend so I can have a budget under $25,000.  
  • At that budget, I can shoot a feature film, television series, or television show pilot/episode of 15 minutes or more for a national audience. 
  • New Jersey's production incentives include a 20% transferable tax credit instituted in 2006. This tax credit is available to producers who spend 60% of their budgets in New Jersey, exclusive of post-production costs. 
  • The credit is both saleable and transferable and may be carried over to subsequent tax years.  
  • The production company must produce a finished print of the project before submitting their final figures for approval.  
Film Office: NJ Motion Picture & Television Commission

  • There is no minimum spend so I can have a budget under $25,000.  
  • At that budget, I would only be eligible for a 9% refundable tax credit on the total qualified expenditures in Montana for any films, television episodes, pilots, series, documentaries and commercials (except advertising for tobacco products) that I shoot.  
  • Note that per diem paid to employees while in-state does qualify for the 9% expenditure credit, as does travel purchased through a Montana travel agent. FICA, FUI and SUI, however, do not qualify. 
  • Also, workers compensation, health insurance and payroll processing fees qualify if paid to an in-state vendor. 
  • Now if I happen to raise enough to pay up to $50,000 in wages to Montana residents then under the Big Sky on the Big Screen Act, my film and TV productions would be eligible for a 14% refundable tax credit on those wages. 
  • Overall, Montana also offers free services to filmmakers: script break-down, location scouting, office furniture and fax machines, as well as traffic control signage. And Montana does not have a sales tax.
  • Finally, the 7% accommodations and lodging taxes are refunded for stays of more than 30 consecutive days.
Film Office: Montana Film Office

  • There is no minimum budget or spend requirement so I can have a budget under $25,000.  
  • At that budget, the 30% refundable film tax credit applies to resident cast and crew, and in-state rentals, purchases and services that are subject to state taxation in New Mexico.
  • Payments for non-resident performing artists (actors and on-camera stunt performers), providing services in NM, will qualify if paid via a “super loan-out” company which pays gross receipts tax (“GRT”) in New Mexico on the payments (wages) and the performing artist receiving payments pays New Mexico income tax. 
  • The state withholding tax (PIT) payment of 4.9% must be withheld by or caused to be withheld by the production company (e.g. via the payroll company) for all qualifying non-resident talent. 
  • New Mexico offers a 25% tax rebate on all direct production expenditures, including New Mexico crews, that are subject to taxation by the state. The rebate applies to feature films, independent films, television, regional and national commercials, documentaries, video games and post-production. Non-resident actors and stunt performers will also qualify under a separate tax structure.   
  • Post-production services rendered in New Mexico also qualify for the 25% Refundable Tax Credit even if the project is shot elsewhere ("Stand-Alone Post").  
  • New Mexico does not require the submission of a distribution plan from the production company to take advantage of the refundable credit. 
  • There is no application fee and no pre-qualification. To begin the process, you only need to submit a registration form and tax agreement prior to principal photography.  
  • New Mexico’s direct qualifying expenditures include, but are not limited to, resident payroll (fringes included), non-resident per diem, rentals/expendables from vendors with local physical presence as well as property rental and location fees.
Film Office: New Mexico Film Office

  • With a budget or spend of $25,000 or less, I could only qualify for a 20% rebate.  Minnesota offers a 20% rebate for qualifying expenditures under $1,000,000 and a 25% rebate for expenditures over $1,000,000. 
  • Note that I get a 60% rebate if the production is outside the metropolitan area. So filmmakers with scripts set in farms and/or the countryside... you're in luck.
  • Only residents count towards the rebate, in addition to local services. Lodging tax is exempted after 30 days. Commercials are exempt from sales tax.  
  • Note that Snowbate, Minnesota's Film Jobs Production Program, provides a reimbursement of 15%-20% of Minnesota production expenditures to films, television and internet programs and other content. Snowbate funds are limited (subject to an appropriation of approximately $1 million annually) and are approved biennially.
Film Office: Minnesota Film and TV Board
  • The minimum expenditure requirement is $25,000 so I need to have a budget of $25,000 or more that I'm actually spending in West Virginia to qualify. West Virginia's incentives to production include The West Virginia Film Industry Investment Act that currently provides for transferable tax credits of up to 31% of qualified in-state spend for production on eligible feature length theatrical or direct-to-video motion pictures, made-for-TV motion pictures, TV pilots, series, and miniseries and more.
  • The current incentive is a transferable income tax credit with limitations. The incentive is actually a 27% tax credit on all direct production expenditures (for pre-production, production and post-production), including all labor and talent that is subject to taxation by the state of West Virginia. 
  • By hiring 10 or more residents (talent and/or crew), it is possible to increase the total allowable credit by an additional 4%, bringing the maximum credit to 31%, but there is a $5 million annual credit cap. 
  • Payments to a personal service corporation (“PSC”) for out-of-state talent can qualify so long as the individual/talent is subject to West Virginia income tax on the payment and fees earned.  
  • West Virginia also offers an exemption from state sales tax for all productions including but not limited to films, television programs, commercials and, music videos. Purchases and rentals of tangible personal property, in addition to the purchase of services, directly used in a qualified production are exempt from the 6% consumer sales and service tax. 
  • Lodging stays in excess of thirty consecutive days are exempt from both the state sales/service tax (6%) and the local hotel/motel tax (varies by region). The exemption begins on the 31st day and is not applicable towards the first 30 days.
Film Office: West Virginia Film Office

Although incentives and subsidies only reduce your net expenditures by about 10% to 15%, they are still helpful to your overall financing and production goals.  Plus, production incentives can provide short-term jobs to state residents, help the local economy, bring revenue to the state and prevent productions from leaving the US.  However, they are still a controversial subject and many critique incentives and subsidies as being unconstitutional and wasteful especially when states are cutting social service programs out of their budget.  This is why each state's incentives and subsidies programs are constantly in flux.  Nevertheless, independent and low-budget filmmakers should still aim to use them while they are still available.

Sources: MPAA, Ease Entertainment Services, Entertainment Partners

*Let me point out that I wouldn't make a movie simply for the production incentive, tax subsidy or tax credit no matter how generous it is.  I want to make films to express a vision and to tell stories, that is first and foremost.

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist A 40-point checklist from development to post-production   by Danny Jiminian