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Missouri revived its film tax credits program. Will that bring more movie sets to Kansas City?

Behind-the-scenes photo from "All Creatures Here Below," the independent feature film that was the first to use a local Kansas City film incentive in 2016 after state incentives lapsed.
KC Film Office
Behind-the-scenes photo from "All Creatures Here Below," the independent feature film that was the first to use a local Kansas City film incentive in 2016 after state incentives lapsed.

A decade after Missouri's film tax credit program expired, Gov. Mike Parson signed into law the Show MO Act to offer incentives for movie productions. David Dastmalchion, an Overland Park actor who recently starred in "Oppenheimer," hopes that will lead to more projects being shot here.

David Dastmalchian’s screenplays for movies set in Kansas City now have a realistic chance to be filmed in and around his hometown, said the acclaimed actor, writer, and producer who grew up in Overland Park.

Recently-signed legislation paves the way for increased film production in Missouri by reauthorizing — and strengthening — tax credit incentives that expired a decade ago.

While filming across the industry is currently stalled because of the ongoing SAG-AFTRA actor’s union strike, forward-looking Missouri film advocates are celebrating the legislative win.

“With the passing of a Missouri tax incentive, what is possible for me personally is an opportunity to have much better odds of convincing investors to put their money into projects that we could shoot in the state of Missouri, reflecting environments, architectures, and people that you don’t see reflected in so many of the films and TV shows that we are consuming right now,” said Dastmalchian.

Dastmalchian is most widely known for his roles in such far-ranging films as “The Suicide Squad,” “Dune,” “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and the recent blockbuster “Oppenheimer.”

The Show MO Act — signed last month by Gov. Mike Parson, R-Missouri — will allow Missouri to compete with other states to secure more film locations, thereby strengthening the local economy, according to advocates within the region’s film industry.

When the state’s previous film tax credit program expired in the mid-2010s, Kansas City enacted its own incentives. Dastmalchian’s film project “All Creatures Here Below” was the first production to take advantage of the regional tax credit — bringing the filming to Kansas City and providing a glimpse into the financial and creative impact of an expanded program across the state, he said.

In all his film work, Dastmalchian aims to highlight the authenticity of his characters, which he said can only be done by accurately “reflecting the places from which the characters come.”

“I’m from south Kansas City,” Dastmalchian said. “I spent my entire childhood in either Kansas or Missouri, and so the stories that I am yearning to tell often are set in either those specific locations, or fictional locations I’ve created that evoke the same atmosphere as Kansas and Missouri.”

Filming at home

A ehind-the-scenes photo from “All Creatures Here Below,” filmed in Kansas City in 2016.
KC Film Office
A ehind-the-scenes photo from “All Creatures Here Below,” filmed in Kansas City in 2016.

Dastmalchian estimated that more than 90% of people working on a film production come from the local area, which would help local actors like Michelle Davidson-Bratcher.

“For my acting work, I travel out of the state to states that have an incentive to be on television shows and in movies,” said Davidson-Bratcher, who also serves as president of Film in MO, the primary organization that advocated for the tax credit. “I would prefer not to spend my nights in a hotel room. I would like to be able to show off Missouri, and act in movies and TV shows that are set here, and celebrate our state.”

She’s excited by the new opportunities presented with more small and larger-scale productions coming to Missouri and Kansas City, she added.

“At least now the possibility can be entertained; before it wasn’t even a possibility,” said Davidson-Bratcher. “Investors would hear that we had no incentive, and move on. Now, we can compete.”

The incentive allows approved motion media productions filmed in Missouri to receive tax credits up to $16 million, with a base 20% credit that can increase to 40% if certain requirements are met.

Two audits — the first performed by a CPA licensed in Missouri, the second by the state government — will be conducted on all projects to ensure that the money is being used properly and distributed to Missouri-based businesses.

“Our incentive program was designed to fit our state,” Davidson-Bratcher said. “We want to do what’s right from Missouri and what our legislators felt comfortable voting for.”

Missouri was actually one of the first states to offer a film tax incentive, according to Steph Shannon, the Kansas City film commissioner.

When that previous law expired in 2013 — just months after “Gone Girl” took advantage of the credit to film in Cape Girardeau — many assumed it would be quickly reauthorized, said Shannon, vice president of Film in MO.

“The natural sunset just hit, and nobody in our industry thought it would be hard to just reinstate it the following legislative session,” Shannon said. “Well, it was hard.”

After 10 years of advocacy and education, the bill finally secured the right sponsors to be passed, Shannon said.

“This was a bipartisan effort,” Shannon said. “This is about business; this is about jobs; and eventually, this is also about brick and mortar businesses. It’s not just Hollywood coming in for handouts.”

Casting call for revenue

A crew from Missouri Stories Lab films “Boy Mom” in Kansas City.
KC Film Office
A crew from Missouri Stories Lab films “Boy Mom” in Kansas City.

Beyond the direct economic impacts of filming taking place in Missouri, many other local industries benefit from a motion picture production, Shannon said.

“Every project is a business in and of itself,” Shannon said. “Every kind of job that a regular business has and needs, happens for every single project, for every single film, and for every single TV show we see.”

Justin Begnaud, a film and television producer and board member for Film in MO, estimated that each set employs 300 to 400 people, most of whom are local to the area.

“Every movie is a startup,” Begnaud said. “Every startup needs a ton of resources to help it grow, and the difference between a [typical] startup and a movie is … you’re hiring 300 people to work on that movie instantly.”

Those jobs include more obvious roles such as acting talent, camera crew, lighting, audio, electric, makeup, and wardrobe, Shannon and Begnaud noted, but also a variety of people in positions not often associated with film production, like plumbing, carpentry, accounting, payroll, insurance, and painting.

Beyond the actual set, film production can directly impact a number of other aspects of a local economy, Shannon added, citing how “Gone Girl” poured $7.9 million into Cape Girardeau’s economy in less than a month.

“There are a lot of ancillary needs,” Shannon said. “They need lumber to build the sets, so that will come from a [local] lumber yard. They need to rent an office. They drink enormous amounts of coffee. … They might bring in some big-name actors who have to stay in hotels or some kind of housing, so there is direct economic impact.”

The economic boon can continue long after filming stops, Davidson-Bratcher said, noting how film tourism can generate even more revenue.

After “Gone Girl” hit theaters, for example, local tourism officials created a popular “Gone Girl Driving Tour”featuring filming locations and other favorite sites.

“We do know that people decide where they’re going to travel based on the pop culture they consume,” Davidson-Bratcher said. “If we can show Missouri as a tourist destination … that leads to tourism. It leads to money flowing into our state year after year.”

Davidson-Bratcher has personally missed opportunities to work as an actor, screenwriter, and producer in her home state because of the lack of tax incentives, she shared.

She previously wrote a script designed to be set in Missouri and secured the backing of a production company, only to have the project film in Canada instead, she said.

“That is just one example of the many Missouri-set stories that now might entertain the idea of setting up their large business in our state,” Davidson-Bratcher said.

This story was originally published on Startland News, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

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