The Mississippi Film Office is celebrating 50 years and is a testament to the many feature films and television productions filmed in the state.
“A Time to Kill,” the 1996 film based on Oxford author John Grisham’s first novel, holds the record for the largest studio budget for a movie filmed in Mississippi: $40 million.
The film also boasts the most star power of any movie filmed in the state: Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Ashley Judd, Donald Sutherland, and Kiefer Sutherland.
The film, set in Canton, Mississippi, was mostly filmed there with a few other scenes filmed in Jackson and Hinds County.
None of that would have been possible without The Mississippi Film Office.
The office, which opened Jan. 17, 1973, is celebrating 50 years of operation and is a testament to the many feature films and television productions filmed in the state before and after “A Time to Kill.”
The film office is a bureau of Visit Mississippi, within the Mississippi Development Authority. The office’s mission is “to foster the growth of the film industry in Mississippi, connect filmmakers with necessary resources, and to cultivate and promote filmmaking by, for, and about Mississippians.”
One of the incentives Mississippi offers filmmakers is a 25% to 35% cash rebate on eligible production expenditures and all payroll. The Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive Program began in 2004. The per project minimum investment is $50,000.
But that’s not always the main draw for filmmakers.
“What also makes Mississippi attractive to filmmakers is its wide variety of locations. We’ve got the hill country of north Mississippi, the wide open vistas of the Delta, the river views and historic buildings of Natchez and Vicksburg, the cityscape of Jackson, the beaches and casinos of the Gulf Coast, our plentiful forests, numerous timeless small towns, and the list goes on,” said Nina Parikh, director of the Mississippi Film Office.
The other feedback filmmakers give the office on filming in the Magnolia State is that people are the state’s most valuable resource.
“We often hear how pleased they are with how friendly, helpful, and easy to work with everyone is from local vendors to city officials to the talented Mississippi crew that they hire. We take pride in how our industry shows people why we’re called The Hospitality State,” Parikh said.
Canton: Mississippi’s Movie Capital
The small city of Canton, in northern Madison County, has two movie museums — one dedicated to the filming of “A Time to Kill,” and another set around the 2000 film, “My Dog Skip,” which was based on the book by Mississippi literary legend Willie Morris.
For “A Time to Kill,” a former restaurant on the courthouse square was transformed into the diner/coffee shop where Bullock’s law student character, Ellen Roark, tries to convince McConaughey’s character, lawyer Jake Brigance, to let her assist in the murder defense of Carl Lee, played by Jackson.
If you walk into the building today, nothing has changed from the 1995 set. It’s all frozen in time. Just upstairs, visitors can find Brigance’s receptionist’s office and his own office. Everything, including the Jake Brigance Ole Miss law degree in a frame on the wall to his penny loafers, shirts, pants, and blazer McConaughey wore in the film, is still in that office.
The office still has magazines and Clarion-Ledger newspapers dated 1995 in piles on side tables.
The Willie Morris movie museum — right next door — is a shrine to the author, who donated many of his personal belongings including books, photos, and copies of Harper’s, the magazine he edited from 1967 to 1971.
The museum also includes sets and props from the film, “My Dog Skip.” The house where the movie takes place is two blocks from the courthouse square.
The very first movie to be filmed in Mississippi after the creation of the film office — director Robert Altman’s quirky bank robbery yarn, “Thieves Like Us” — came out in 1974 and starred Keith Carradine and Shelly Duvall. The movie was filmed in Canton.
“O’ Brother, Where Art Thou,” the George Clooney and John Goodman musical comedy from Oscar winners Joel and Ethan Coen, was shot almost entirely in Mississippi including in Natchez, Leland, Vicksburg, Greenwood, and Canton.
Location, Location, Location
One of the most important jobs Parikh has is scouting locations.
“I’ve scouted for locations with Joel and Ethan Coen for ‘O’ Brother, Where Art Thou,’ about 10 counties in mostly central Mississippi; with John Krasinski for ‘The Hollars’ in Jackson; and with Paul Schrader for ‘The Card Counter’ on the Gulf Coast as well as dozens and dozens of others,” Parikh said.
Parikh said the location of a film will depend on the budget.
“If it’s a small, independent movie, we can’t just put them in the middle of nowhere. We will have to have them close to a bigger city or town,” she said.
Parikh’s personal background “locations” eventually led her to the Mississippi Film Office where she has now worked for 25 years.
“My mother is from the Philippines, and my father is from India. I was born in Paducah, Kentucky, lived in Rosiclaire, Illinois, then Brooklyn, New York, Indianapolis, Indiana, and finally Brandon, Mississippi by the age of 11,” Parikh said.
Parikh calls herself “a self-identified Mississippian and a proud resident of Jackson.”
“I studied film at The University of Southern Mississippi and New York University. I don’t have a romantic story about how I landed in the filmmaking world. It was a logical conclusion more than anything. Growing up, I loved photography and storytelling. My best friend suggested I should marry those interests together and consider filmmaking. I’ve been working in this industry for more than 30 years at this point. Sometimes your friends know you better than you know yourself,” she said.
Here are 7 of the biggest Hollywood productions filmed in Mississippi:
“Mississippi Burning” (1988)
Directed by Alan Parker
Starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe
Jackson, Vaiden, and Vicksburg
“A Time to Kill” (1996)
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Starring Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock
Canton and Jackson
“Ghosts of Mississippi” (1996)
Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring Alec Baldwin and Whoopi Goldberg
Jackson, Greenwood, Natchez, and Yazoo City
“My Dog Skip” (2000)
Directed by Jay Russell
Starring Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane
“O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000)
Directed by Joel Coen
Starring George Clooney and John Goodman
Canton, Natchez, Vicksburg, and Greenwood
“The Help” (2011)
Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring Emma Stone and Viola Davis
“The Card Counter” (2021)
Directed by Paul Schrader
Starring Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish
Biloxi and Gulfport
For more information about the Mississippi Film Office and a complete list of all the movies and tv shows filmed here, visit www.filmmississippi.org.