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First lady supports incentives for films

OWENSBORO — Jane Beshear, Kentucky's first lady, will lend her support to state Rep. Tommy Thompson's efforts to create state incentives for the film industry in Kentucky during the 2009 legislative session.

Thompson's bill "is an initiative that has the potential to move us from being ranked as the 46th state in the nation (in film production) to inclusion in the top 20," Beshear told the Kentucky Tourism Industry's annual conference in Bowling Green last month.

"A month ago, I would have said the bill would wait until 2010 because it's a budget item," said Madison Silvert, vice president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. "But all the chatter I hear now says it will come up this session. I'm going to be there to support it."

Thompson's bill died on the House floor on the final day of the last session in April.

Had the legislation passed, Silvert said, two movies — each with a $10 million budget — were set to be made in Owensboro this year. Roughly half of the budgets would have been spent locally, he estimated.

"They just took $10 million out of our pockets," Silvert said.

But, with the economy on the skids and a threat of an actors strike this past summer, neither movie has gone into production yet, Silvert said. So there's still a chance that passage of incentives this winter could lure them back.

Ralph Singleton, who produced Because of Winn-Dixie and other box-office successes, was behind both of the movies looking at the Owensboro-Evansville, Ind., area as production sites.

Singleton said continued production of movies and television series in Kentucky would lead to other supporting industries relocating to the state.

"Hopefully, we can create a package where someone will create film-production facilities in the state," Thompson, an Owensboro Democrat, said last week. "We have some great Kentucky ambassadors that we need to use to promote the film industry in Kentucky — George Clooney, Ashley Judd, Johnny Depp."

He said he'll "continue to tweak the bill some before we go back into session in February" and introduce it then.

"It's picked up a good bit of support and momentum since last spring," Thompson said.

"Right now," Beshear told the tourism officials meeting in Bowling Green, "we're losing out on a benefit that states like West Virginia, Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi realize because we lack a competitive package to attract the film industry to Kentucky.

"You all remember that the feature films Seabiscuit, Elizabethtown and Dreamer all had story lines that were set in Kentucky," she said. "Each filmed as little as they could here and then used settings in other states to stand in for Kentucky."

Beshear said the Kentucky farm featured in Dreamer was filmed in Louisiana.