Alabama film industry set for blockbuster year after record 2019

Alabama film industry set for blockbuster year after record 2019
"I Still Believe" is Jon and Andy Erwin's fifth film shot in Alabama. The movie, opening in wide release March 13, tells the story of Christian singer Jeremy Camp. (contributed)

The cameras are rolling on a golden period for film activity in Alabama, which is generating a record level of production expenditures while creating jobs and elevating the state’s profile in the industry.

The Alabama Film Office reported 20 film and TV productions qualified for state incentives in 2019 and spent nearly $72 million while in Alabama, up from $63.5 million during the previous year.

In addition, rebates approved to offset production costs totaled just under the ceiling of $20 million last year, eclipsing the previous record of $19 million set in 2018.

Kathy Faulk of the Alabama Film Office said 2020 is shaping up to be a blockbuster year as well.

Since Oct. 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, more than a dozen entertainment productions have qualified for tax rebates to film in Alabama, Faulk said.

“With the increasing popularity of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Studios, Disney+, HBO Max, CBS Access and Apple TV+, there is a growing demand for original filmed content,” Faulk said.

Faulk said the escalating level of production spending in the state has created thousands of jobs the past few years.

In 2012, for example, expenditures by qualified productions in Alabama totaled $33.5 million, less than half today’s level.

“Film productions have a huge economic impact when they come to a community. Many local behind-the-scenes crew, such as carpenters, electricians, painters, technicians, make-up artists and extras are hired. Creating jobs is what this is all about,” Faulk said.

“A production will use local businesses such as catering services and equipment rentals. They also rent office space, homes, buildings, public and private property, etc., for locations. Cast and crew also fill up area hotels and neighborhood restaurants,” she said.

Two movies are now being filmed in Alabama, and another is on the way.

Lansky,” being shot in Mobile, stars Harvey Keitel as the notorious mobster Meyer Lansky and features Australian actor Sam Worthington, who appeared in “Avatar.” In Birmingham, director Dolph Lundgren, who also stars, is filming “Castle Falls.”

An Amazon Studios production, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” begins shooting in late February in Fairhope and Mobile. Leading the cast are Kathryn Newton (“Big Little Lies”) and Kyle Allen (“American Horror Story”).

Michael B. Jordan, left, and Jamie Foxx star in ‘Just Mercy,’ which was mostly filmed in the Montgomery area. The movie debuted in wide release in January. (Warner Bros.)

Economic impact

Brian Jones, also with the Alabama Film Office, said the state often sees lasting economic dividends from films beyond just the jobs they provide while shooting in Alabama.

“A major motion picture such as ‘Just Mercy’ will attract thousands of visitors to Montgomery’s civil rights sites, much like the music documentary ‘Muscle Shoals’ attracts visitors to the Shoals area,” Jones said.

“These movies will continue to impact the state’s tourism industry for years to come as new audiences watch them on video, streaming services and cable networks.”

Just Mercy,” starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, was partially filmed in and around Montgomery beginning in August 2018. The Warner Bros. production recounts the true story of how attorney Bryan Stevenson (played by Jordan) cleared inmate Walter McMillian (Foxx), who was wrongly convicted of murder.

The film entered wide release at theaters in January and has earned critical praise.

Anticipated releases

Meanwhile, movies filmed in Alabama during 2019 will soon make their debuts.

One of them, “I Still Believe,” had a private screening earlier this month in Mobile, where it was shot. Distributor Lionsgate has set widespread release for March 13, and it will become the first faith-based movie to play in IMAX theaters, beginning March 11.

“I Still Believe” is the fifth film from Birmingham brothers Jon and Andy Erwin to feature Alabama. It depicts the true story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp and his journey of love and loss. Stars include Gary Sinise, Shania Twain, KJ Apa (“Riverdale”) and Melissa Roxburgh (“Manifest”).

The Erwins’ previous features include “October Baby,” “Coffee Shop,“ “Mom’s Night Out” and “Woodlawn.”

Another anticipated Alabama-filmed release is “The Devil All the Time,” a Netflix psychological thriller with a cast that includes Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, Sebastian Stan, Mia Wasikowska and Eliza Scanlon.

“The Devil All the Time” is described as a Midwestern Gothic tale that unfolds over two decades and features a cast of nefarious characters that includes a serial-killer couple, a faith-testing preacher and a corrupt sheriff.

Principal photography took place in locations in and around Birmingham, Anniston and Pell City between February and April 2019.

Television appeal

Faulk said Alabama is also becoming an increasingly popular location for television series productions.

These include “Love and Marriage: Huntsville” for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN NetworkSweet Home Sextuplets” for TLC (Guntersville) and “The Cowboy Way: Alabama” for INSP (Wiregrass area).

Alabama also boasts the long-running syndicated series “Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford,” which films in Mobile and is entering its 22nd season.

The state is popular with the high-profile HGTV channel, which films a number of episodic shows in Alabama. HGTV filmed a full-season series, “Beach Flip,” in Gulf Shores that aired in 2016.

‘Love & Marriage: Huntsville,’ a reality TV show featuring six friends from the Alabama city, airs on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network. (OWN)

Attractive locations

Faulk said Alabama offers a wide variety of locations for film production crews, with a completely different look from one end of the state to the other, ranging from beaches to mountains and just about everything in between.

“Birmingham and Mobile continue to be our largest draw for film due to their size, diversity of locations and availability of crew. Huntsville also draws a great amount of interest, especially at the Space and Rocket Center,” she said. “Because we have so many beautiful and diverse state parks, they continue to be extremely popular for filming.

“But activity is taking place in many other cities across the state. Last year, we had filming in a wider range of locations, including Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Dothan, Fairhope, Anniston, Jacksonville, Montevallo, Bessemer, McCalla and York,” she said.

The Alabama Film Office is part of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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