Patrick Ishmael

If you're a Netflix subscriber, you may have noticed a new series being promoted on the site that features a very familiar setting. The show, Ozark, follows Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, and an intriguing cast of characters as they try to advance their mostly-illegal schemes at Missouri's own Lake of the Ozarks. From drug running to money laundering to outright murder, the series in many respects follows the Breaking Bad television blueprint. I've seen all the episodes. It's worth your time.

But this blog post isn't a review. (If only!) Alas, it is instead a continuation of our sometimes-Sisyphean task of criticizing the corporate welfare doled out by government, albeit this time with a twist. This time Missouri, where "Ozark" is set, didn't subsidize the show's production. Georgia did.

While the show won’t film at its namesake location, it is expected to drive film tourism to the Lake of the Ozarks. The expansive Missouri reservoir will be recreated at Lake Allatoona. The decision to film elsewhere is likely to do with Missouri’s lack of film tax incentives, after their 35% tax credit programme expired in November 2013.

The state of Georgia on the other hand has one of the most lucrative film incentives in the country. Productions filming on location need to incur a minimum spend of USD500,000 to access 20% in transferable tax credits. An uplift of 10% is available if productions embed an official Georgia logo somewhere in the finished product.

There are no per-project caps on the amount that can be claimed through the programme, which has made Georgia an incredibly popular filming location for productions of all sizes. AMC’s The Walking Dead has been filmed in multiple areas throughout Georgia including Atlanta and Senoia.

References to real places in and around the Lake of the Ozarks are everywhere in the show, and at one point about two episodes into the series I turned to my wife and said I thought Ozark was good enough, and its geographical depiction true enough, to drive some serious tourism to the Lake of the Ozarks—that a lot of people were going to be introduced to this uniquely Missouri asset and want a closer look. Certainly residents at the Lake have a right to gripe about the less-than-positive portrayals of the Ozarkian villains in the show, but on the whole, you couldn't really craft a more subversive promotional vehicle for the mid-Missouri region.

Suspense! Excitement! Drugs! Violence! Light comedy! More drugs! And all the while, Georgia is paying for that entertainment—at no charge to Missouri taxpayers or Lake residents. 

In fact, contrary to what tax credit supporters may suggest, letting Missouri's film tax credit expire in 2013 was a benefit to the state and ultimately got the Peach State to pay for about 10 hours of promotional material free of charge for the Show-Me State, with potentially hours and hours more to come should the show be renewed. And renewal is looking likely.

If I were Georgia, I'd cut bait on the credit. But if I were Missouri? I'd laugh all the way to the Lake.

About the Author

Patrick Ishmael
Director of Government Accountability

Patrick Ishmael is the director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute.