JEFFERSON CITY • In the new HBO miniseries “Sharp Objects,” a St. Louis newspaper editor dispatches one of his reporters to Missouri’s Bootheel to investigate the murder of a girl.
Like “Ozark,” a Netflix series, “Sharp Objects” is set in Missouri — yet filmed in Georgia. The state to the southeast is booming with film projects, boosters there say, the result of generous incentives the state doles out to film studios.
In Missouri, a similar but much more modest program for films ended in 2013. Georgia has not stopped offering goodies to lure studios. But like Missouri, other states are assessing just how much they gain — and how much they lose — by handing out the enticements.
According to the National Council of State Legislatures, or NCSL, several states have cut their film incentives since the Great Recession. Louisiana was the first state to offer incentives in 1992. By 2009, according to the organization, 44 states offered some kind of package to film studios.
Since then, 13 states — including Missouri — have shuttered their programs. Other states, such as Colorado, Texas and Maryland, according to the group, have pared back their offerings.
“Most states’ policymakers walk a fine line and try to balance film production incentives in ways that limit forgone revenue,” according to the NCSL, “yet still reduce the chances of losing the state’s film industry to competing incentive programs.”
Until 2013, Missouri issued transferable tax credits to cover up to 35 percent of the costs of production if the studio spent more than $100,000 in the state for films longer than a half-hour.
Oscar-nominated “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" was made in North Carolina.
Skeptics of such incentives wonder about the long-term economic benefits to a state, especially after crews pack up and leave when filming is complete. But Steph Scupham, director of the Kansas City Film Office, said the benefits of landing a project outweigh the costs.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with people coming in, doing business, spending money and leaving,” she said, “especially when it also educates the people in our industry and gives our industry that is here more experience.”
Missouri House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said such credits “could potentially benefit other businesses.”
“In terms of credits, it’s probably one of the ones that makes a little bit of sense, because there’s a tourism aspect to it,” he said.
Since 2008 in Georgia, the state has covered up to 30 percent of production expenses in the form of transferable tax credits. While Missouri limited its annual funding of the now-defunct program to $4.5 million, Georgia has no limit.
Because there are no caps, and no so-called sunset clauses on Georgia’s program, studios have found it is easier to film in Georgia than in other states, said Emily Murray, spokeswoman for the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office.
“With the tax incentive put in place in 2008, that’s when we really started to see this huge growth in the industry,” she said.
The credits have helped nurture the state’s industry, Murray said. Studios have invested in constructing permanent infrastructure, which has led to more projects.
According to a 2017 report by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, 320 projects took advantage of the credits in fiscal year 2017, translating into a $9.5 billion economic impact in the state.
The state’s existing support system was one of the reasons HBO decided to film much of “Sharp Objects” in Georgia. (Some scenes are filmed in California.)
“The decision to film in Georgia was a combination of incentive funds, location choices and proper filmmaking infrastructure (crew base, equipment, etc.), which are more readily available in the Atlanta area,” HBO spokeswoman Nancy Lesser said in an email.
She also said crews found in Georgia a location that suited director Jean-Marc Vallée’s vision for Wind Gap, the fictional Missouri Bootheel town where the murder mystery takes place.
While Missouri currently has no tax incentives to offer, the Kansas City Film Office, the Missouri Motion Media Association and the Missouri Film Office work to attract projects and grow the film industry in Missouri.
When asked if lawmakers would ever consider reinstating Missouri’s program, Fitzpatrick said it is “unlikely” given the state’s current tax credit reform mindset. But, he said, “You never know.”
Scupham said she visited the set of “Sharp Objects” in Barnesville, Ga., last year. She said producers there wanted to film at least some of the series in Missouri, but that it did not make economic sense.
“We don’t need to be Georgia, but we can definitely have a healthy industry in Missouri,” Scupham said. “Obviously people are interested in stories set in Missouri.”