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Filmmakers Cash In on Made-in-Kentucky Movies

Kentucky’s upgraded film tax credits have made the Commonwealth attractive to directors and production companies.

“It’s very costly to film in LA and filmmakers are coming to Kentucky,” says Jay Hall, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism.

Created in 2009, Kentucky’s film incentive program expanded in 2015 when then-Govenor Steve Beshear signed House Bill 340, which increased the value of film tax credits and made Kentucky one of the most affordable film production locations in the United States.

Eligible production companies can take advantage of a refundable income tax credit of up to 30 percent of approved expenditures. These qualified expenditures can include set construction, lease or rental of real estate, rental equipment, photography, lighting, editing and sound services, electrical, hardware, wardrobe, vehicle leases, food, and local accommodations.

Filmmakers also can cash in on a 35 percent incentive for Kentucky resident labor, and for filming in enhanced incentive counties, which are 83 counties with high poverty rates.

Film production companies must spend at least $250,000 in Kentucky to produce feature films or television shows, while commercials are eligible for tax credits if they spend $100,000. Documentaries and Broadway productions are also eligible with an expenditure minimum of $20,000, while a Kentucky-based company would need to spend $10,000 to be eligible for the same tax credits.

All applications for film projects are reviewed and approved by the Kentucky Film Office, the secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, the Finance and Administration Cabinet, and the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority.

Filming of the 2010 film Secretariat, which was shot at multiple locations in Kentucky including Churchill Downs (Louisville, KY) and Keeneland Racetrack (Lexington, KY). Photo: Courtesy of Disney Entertainment/Kentucky Film Office

11 Made-in-Kentucky Movies

From The Kentuckian in 1955 to Above Suspicion in 2017, the beauty of the commonwealth has always deserved film credit. Here are 11 films that have used the Bluegrass State as a backdrop:

  • Above Suspicion 2017 Based on Joe Sharkey’s true crime book of the same name, Above Suspicion was filmed on location in Lexington, Paris, and Harlan. The movie follows FBI agent Mark Putnam, who fell in love with his informant and eventually murdered her when she threatened to go public with their affair. No release date as of press time.
  • Secretariat 2010 For the Disney film about Triple Crown winner Secretariat, shown above, director Randall Wallace hired hundreds of Kentuckians to be extras in race scenes. Wallace filmed on location at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby scenes and shot the Belmont Stakes scenes at Lexington’s Keeneland racecourse.
  • Elizabethtown 2005 This romantic tragi-comedy starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst was filmed in Crestwood, Versailles, Oldham County, Louisville, and, of course, Elizabethtown. The “Welcome to Elizabethtown” sign figured prominently in the movie, as did Louisville’s Brown Hotel and Cave Hill Cemetery. Dunst’s and Bloom’s characters also watched the sunrise at Otter Creek Park in Meade County, near Brandenburg.
  • A League of Their Own 1992 It was filmed mostly in Evansville, Indiana, but director Penny Marshall and crew traveled to Henderson, Kentucky, to shoot the Soaper-Esser House as the boarding house where the Rockford Peaches lived. The film was inspired by the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II.
  • In Country 1989 Set in Hopewell, a fictional western Kentucky town created by Kentucky writer Bobbie Ann Mason, In Country is the story of a 17-year-old girl dealing with her uncle’s post-traumatic stress disorder from the Vietnam War. The film was shot in and around western Kentucky, including Paducah and Mayfield, as well as Lexington and the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • Rain Man 1988 Starring Dustin Hoffman and a young Tom Cruise—Raymond Babbit, who has autism, and brother Charlie–—two memorable scenes were filmed in northern Kentucky. Fans still visit Pompilios in Newport to see and eat at the restaurant where Hoffman’s character quickly calculates 82+82+82=246 toothpicks as they go flying onto the barroom’s tile floor, still intact. In nearby Melbourne, St. Anne Convent served as the fictitious Wallbrook mental institution.
  • Stripes 1981 A military comedy starring John Candy and Bill Murray, Stripes’ army base scenes were shot at Fort Knox in Hardin County. Many city street scenes were shot in downtown Louisville, and all the prison break-rescue scenes were shot at the abandoned Chapeze Distillery, owned by Jim Beam, in Clermont.
  • Coal Miner’s Daughter 1980 Filmed on location in Van Lear, Jenkins, and Whitesburg, Coal Miner’s Daughter chronicles the childhood and life of country music star Loretta Lynn.
  • The Flim Flam Man 1967 This movie about con artist Mordecai Jones was filmed in many locations throughout the commonwealth, including the Irvine Bridge in Estill County, the Old Crow Distillery near Frankfort, and the train tracks alongside Midway’s Main Street. Several car chase scenes were shot in Winchester, Lawrenceburg, and Georgetown.
  • Raintree County 1957 A big-budget Civil War melodrama starring Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, Raintree County premiered in Louisville in 1957 and was filmed partially in Paducah and McCracken County, and Danville for six weeks in August and September of 1956. Before she left Danville, Taylor was presented with the keys to the city by the mayor.
  • The Kentuckian 1957 Burt Lancaster and crew came to Kentucky to film this movie about a Kentucky frontiersman in the 1820s. Lancaster both directed and starred in this film, which featured several locations near Owensboro and Green River, as well as shots at Levi Jackson State Park in London and Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin.


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