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Thursday, January 25, 2018 | Opinion

You have a laundry list of camp counselors, babysitters, and horny teenagers to kill – but you don’t want to spend a lot of money. What to do, what to do…

The ‘80s were a golden age for horror movies, slashers and “who-dun-its” in particular. With a few thousand bucks, a decent camera crew, and a slew of no-name actors to slay, virtually anyone could produce a frightening flick to which gore-hungry hordes would flock. Today is a different story, however. With ballooning costs and greater budget scrutiny, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to shoot, edit, and release a scream-inducing hit-maker with robust enough returns to justify the capital invested. So how do you get away with murder on a budget these days? Tax incentives, of course!

With Uncle Sam’s favourite season just around the corner, there’s no better time to assess which states in the union offer the most attractive incentives to film on location. From sea to shining sea, the U.S. is full of nightmarish woodlands, eerie swamplands, and even a hair-raising cemetery or two. Which states crack the top 10 with the best tax incentives in the nation?

Coming in at number one is the Sooner State itself, Oklahoma. With tax incentives of 35% and a minimum spend threshold of only $50,000, Oklahoma has attracted such productions as THE FRIGHTENERS and NEAR DARK over the past many years. Hot on its tail as a close second is Illinois, offering productions a 30% incentive as long as a minimum spend of $100,000 is reached in-state. Some of the most renowned horror features filmed here have been CHILD’S PLAY 2 as well as the 2005 remake of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. Rounding out the top five are Kentucky, Louisiana, and of course, New York, respectively.

For a full list of the top 10 states, reference the table below:


With the cost of capital on the rise, inflation eroding earnings, and traditional distribution channels challenged by emerging technologies, finding ways to minimize Uncle Sam’s kickback has become priority number one for productions on a budget. In order for executive producers to really sink their teeth into their profits, finding optimal locations to shoot can be critical. To demonstrate this point, here is a comparative analysis of the revenue, costs, and net income associated with 2017’s FLATLINERS between filming in Oklahoma and shooting in Alabama:


Even without a screenplay, numbers sure can tell a story, can’t they?

Now, in reality, FLATLINERS was filmed in Canada, but this table illustrates the importance and potential impact state tax incentives can have on a film’s bottom line. 

Despite the genre being, historically, one of the more affordable to produce, horror stands the chance of bleeding out if disciplined investment decisions such as cost-conscious location scouting aren’t exercised. With producers in pursuit of any and every way to pinch a penny, who knows? Perhaps, just perhaps, the next Stephen King adaptation or James Wan horror thriller could be setting up shop in a town near you.

Sonny Morgan
Contributing columnist with a focus on the business of horror, from financials to production operations and everything in between.