FREEZE FRAME 

INCENSE AND INCENTIVES

If local filmmakers and crew had a buck for every time in the past 15 or so years somebody's announced plans to build a production studio in Charleston, they'd be ... well, not millionaires, exactly, but lunch would definitely be in the offing. It's a favorite cause celebre around these parts, and one that's bitten the hard dust of reality every single time it's been proposed.

That may be about to change (operative word: "may"), as a result of the significant success state tax incentives have had in the past year luring movie and television producers to South Carolina. But only if those recent incentives are made even more tempting, as S.C. legislators are presently mulling.

The P&C reported last week that a Santa Monica-based company called Pacifica Ventures has expressed an interest in building a studio on the North Chuck campus of Trident Technical College, as permitted by legislation just passed last year by the general assembly. The company, which has built similar production facilities in London; Kiev, Ukraine; and Albuquerque, N.M. (which, like S.C., provides some of the fattest tax rebates in the nation), has said that before committing to moving in with TTC, they'd need to see S.C.'s existing incentives, well, reincentivized, as it were.

Turns out legislators are already considering doing just that. Film activity in the state in 2004, right before the initial tax honeypot was hoisted, couldn't be spotted with a magnifying glass. In 2006, once producers caught wind of the giveaways, S.C. pulled in six feature films, two television pilots, and a series, Army Wives, which is filming on upper Meeting Street right now. What's more, every available rebate for 2007 had been maxed out by February, leaving S.C. incentive-less for four long months.

Lawmakers in Columbia introduced two identical bills on April 12 that propose juicing up the tax incentives in order to continue to remain competitive with other states that are doing the same thing. The technical details of the amendments to the legislation are mostly boring, abstruse numbers, but to a penny-pinching studio accountant they're like Spanish fly. Both bills must pass out of committee and to the other chamber by May 1 to be eligible for a vote by the full assembly.

If the past is any lesson, it's probably not a good idea to bank on a film studio on Rivers Avenue until the ribbon's cut and the air is turned on. But, assuming S.C. legislators act their act together in the next week, it's as real a possibility now as it's ever been.


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