Director wants to grow Mississippi entertainment industry for future generations

Published 12:11 am Tuesday, September 3, 2013

JACKSON (AP) — Director Tate Taylor says he wants to make his native Mississippi a place where people can build careers with steady work in the movie business.

He filmed “The Help” in the state in 2010 and announced Aug. 26 that he will make a feature film about the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, with the intention of shooting “every frame” in Mississippi.

Work is set for November and December in and around Natchez and for January and February in and around Jackson.

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Taylor, who grew up in Jackson and lives on a former plantation near Natchez, also dangled the possibility of making other movies in the state in the future.

“It’s my hope also that young Mississippians, Mississippians of all ages, will soon be able to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, but without having to go to Los Angeles, like I did,” Taylor said at the announcement.

That prompted applause and smiles from Gov. Phil Bryant and other top officials who joined the director outside the Mississippi Coliseum on the state fairgrounds, where some concert scenes will be shot.

Mississippi Development Authority officials said it’s too early to know how many jobs the James Brown movie will create, but they’ve been told nearly 7,000 to 9,000 paychecks will be issued. A paycheck could be a couple hundred dollars to a local actress who works as an extra, or thousands of dollars to people who provide services such as catering.

“I found out just enough about moviemaking to know that it is a business,” Bryant said.

Taylor said studios will shoot movies where it makes the most economic sense, and he believes Mississippi’s newly revamped film incentives help make the state more attractive. Lawmakers updated the incentives earlier this year, with rebates of up to $10 million per project for nationally distributed feature films, documentaries and TV shows. The package includes payroll rebates for hiring in-state residents.

Bryant said the state is providing incentives for Taylor’s project, and officials will put a dollar figure on the incentives after they know how many people will be hired and how much money the filmmakers will spend. The movie from Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment is not yet titled. Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in “42,” has been cast to portray Brown.

Mississippi approved incentives for 23 film projects in 2012 and about 20 projects so far in 2013, though not all of the projects that were approved have been made.

Taylor pointed to New Orleans as a successful movie-making hub.

Louisiana is known for generous film incentives, and Taylor said the city has a ready-made workforce of people who know how to do a variety of movie or TV production jobs.

Ward Emling, Mississippi’s longtime film commissioner, said someone working as a location scout for a movie might make a couple hundred dollars a day.

After gaining experience, the same person could draw a much higher paycheck as a location manager.

“The upward mobility, for a conscientious worker, is pretty good,” Emling said.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he has met with Taylor over the past several weeks to discuss possible sites for filming the James Brown movie.

“We’re trying to build a reputation here to build a good production community,” Butch Brown said.

Steve Hale, now a first-term state senator, was mayor of Senatobia from 1993 to 2001, when parts of two movies were filmed in the north Mississippi town: “The Client” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”

He said a few local people got on-screen jobs as extras, and filmmakers renovated a courtroom in the Tate County Courthouse for the Flynt movie.

While movie production is temporary, “it creates an air of excitement, and it adds a little something to your economy,” Hale said.

Taylor said when “A Time to Kill” was filmed in Mississippi in the mid-1990s, he worked as a production assistant, which he called “the lowest job on the totem pole.”

After that, he moved to Los Angeles.

“And, luckily, it kind of worked out for me,” he said.

Still, Taylor said he knows there are people who live in Mississippi and want to work in movies or TV but they have family and can’t just pack up and leave.

“I think with all of our hard work, we will soon see great talent rising up from our native soil,” Taylor said.