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Area ready for action as Riley signs film bill

03-25-2009
McClellan is ready for some action.  And suspense.  And drama.  And comedy.

Local officials and at least one Los Angeles-based movie producer have identified the former fort as a prime location to take advantage of the state's new film incentives, signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Bob Riley.

Riley, signing the bill in a ceremony at the state Capitol, was surrounded by legislators, film industry supporters and tourism officials. Also on hand were two representatives of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival who were dressed in Elizabethan outfits.

The new law offers financial incentives to companies that film movies, television shows or other productions in Alabama. It provides for breaks on sales, income and lodgings taxes for companies spending at least $500,000 to film in the state or spending at least $50,000 to make soundtracks.

Daniel Wheatcroft, president of Shoot to Thrill Productions, an entertainment consulting company in Los Angeles, has known about McClellan's film potential for about four years, and says he has been waiting for the opportunity to use all the former fort has to offer.

"I have had McClellan in my mind the entire time as a key location to begin production in Alabama," he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "It's suitable and usable in many ways, not just because of the military, but because of the expanse."

The large unoccupied areas on McClellan make it ideal for large special effects such as explosions, he said.

"McClellan would be easy and wouldn't disrupt the community," Wheatcroft said. "It's certainly what my industry needs."

Though he can't give specifics, Wheatcroft said he does have Alabama, particularly McClellan, in mind for an upcoming production that could begin as early as August.

"I do have projects that could come to Alabama as soon as the state is ready," he said.

Critics of such incentives have questioned whether states recoup their money, but the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, passed both the House and Senate by unanimous votes.

Riley said the incentives will give Alabama a chance to showcase its diverse scenery and talented citizens. He said the measure will also lead to training programs in the state to develop cameramen, lighting experts and other technical workers needed to support film productions.

"It can do for us locally what it can do for people in all 67 counties create a new tool for economic development," said Pete Conroy, a local supporter of the bill and director of Jacksonville State University's Environmental Policy and Information Center. "In our area, we have a temporary head start a variety of industry and film executives and producers have had their eyes on McClellan."

Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell said the bill's signing may come in time to make sure that a planned movie about University of Alabama football fans, "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer," is filmed at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa and not at a stadium elsewhere in the South.

Sentell said it may be July or August before his office can prepare rules for awarding the incentives.

Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she was looking forward to calling her daughter, Hollywood actress Sharon Warren, and telling her incentives for movie makers had become a reality.

Sharon Warren, who played singer Ray Charles' mother in the 2005 movie "Ray," spoke to legislators several years ago and urged them to pass the incentives.

Star Entertainment Editor Deirdre Long and The Associated Press contributed to this report.