Mississippi Oscar night parties at The Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood and at Brent's Drugs in Jackson erupted in cheers and tears when Octavia Spencer was named the Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, for her performance as the brassy maid Minny in THE HELP.
During the filming in Greenwood in 2010, many of the cast and crew stayed at The Alluvian, a boutique hotel restored by Fred Carl and the Viking Corporation, which is headquartered in Greenwood. Brent's Drugs is a featured location in both Kathryn Stockett's novel and writer/director Tate Taylor's film. Stockett, Taylor, and the film's producer, Brunson Green, are all Jackson natives.
"It was a special evening for so many of us," said Film Office Director Ward Emling. "Not only was a film made in Mississippi nominated, our friends were, too. Brunson worked as a production assistant on a film here back in 1992, and both Tate and Octavia were production assistants on A TIME TO KILL in 1995," Emling added. "We've known them all for so long; to see them reach this pinnacle is so amazing...and very emotional."
For Spencer, who had previously been honored by the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Movie Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the BAFTA Awards, the NAACP Image Awards - it was her first Oscar win and her first nomination. She had previously been seen in television "Ugly Betty," "CSI," "The Big Bang Theory," "Dharma & Greg" and the Comedy Central show "Halfway Home." She had also appeared in the film "Never Been Kissed," "Big Momma's House" and "Bad Santa." She also was featured in Tate Taylor's previous films: a short film called, "Chicken Party," and the feature, PRETTY UGLY PEOPLE. Both films were also produced by Green.
THE HELP was filmed entirely on location in Mississippi, primarily in Greenwood on the edge of the Mississippi Delta, with additional locations in Clarksdale and Jackson. "Tate and Brunson were really committed to doing this film in Mississippi, and we worked closely with Bill Crump and the Economic Development Foundation in Greenwood to build a package of new incentives to augment our existing film incentive program," said Emling. "We knew the producers were looking at Louisiana, so we had a good idea of the gap we had to close between their credit and our rebate."
Because of the impact of the production, Mississippi enhanced their cash rebate incentive program during the 2011 Legislative session. They now offer a 25% rebate on local spend and non-resident payroll and a 30% rebate on resident payroll. "We are now 'cash-equivalent' with Louisiana and Georgia. I know they have crew and infrastructure advantages over us right now, but with the opening of the Mississippi Film Studios at Canton; the growth of local production companies like Eyevox/Mad Genius and Red Planet; and the creation of a film industry training curriculum at Hinds Community College that will soon go statewide, we have every intention of closing that gap as well," adds Emling.
Last fall, two independent films, HAUNTED (Greenville) and RISE AGAIN (Natchez), and the reality series, FULL METAL JOUSTING (Jackson/Clinton) all filmed in Mississippi, and the spring and summer are going to be busy with production across the state.
"We are committed to the film industry for the long term," continues Emling. "We have unanimous support from our elected officials and complete cooperation from our communities. We know the film industry is good for Mississippi, so we know in the years ahead we will continue to improve our incentive and add other programs to support and build the industry."
Everyone in Mississippi knows THE HELP was a very special film, and such magic is not going to happen every time out; but, that said, they also know Mississippi is an inspiring place for storytellers...and the next magical story could happen anywhere you look.