From Kentucky Economic Development Guide 2024

A Filmmakers Paradise

Kentucky’s scenic locations and small town atmosphere are where production dollars stretch further.

Kentucky’s Economic Development Finance Authority approved a $700,000 incentive toward River City Entertainment Group’s redevelopment of Louisville Gardens.
Renderings courtesy of Gensler


ationwide, film and television productions are finding a new groove as 2024 kicks off. 

And just like fine wine — or bourbon in this case — the state of Kentucky has become a filming destination that only gets better with age. The Bluegrass State’s entertainment industry is spearheaded by quality incentives and supported by a plethora of onsite locations and studio space. Paired with its home base of experienced production crew, Kentucky provides a cornucopia of filmmaking opportunities.

The state was selected as the primary location for recent productions like Ethan Hawke’s “Wildcat,” which portrays American novelist Flannery O’Connor’s trials in publishing her first book, and Ash Avildsen’s “Queen of the Ring” biopic about pro-wrestler Mildred Burke.
In a September 2023 article by Variety Magazine, Hawke divulged about his time spent bringing his film to life, “Shooting ‘Wildcat’ in Kentucky proved to be the best thing that could have happened for the film. The locations were varied and dramatic, the crew was experienced, hardworking and fun to be around, and the fantastic tax incentive made it all possible.”

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Had it not been for labor strikes that struck the nation in 2023, the Kentucky Entertainment Incentive (KEI) program for film and television productions would’ve come close to reaching the state’s $75 million annum cap before the year ended. Regardless of setbacks faced, the state’s KEI program was able to distribute more than $60 million to 61 productions. 
“We anticipate the number of participants to grow in the coming year,” said Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development Senior Program Manager Tim Bates. “A few of the larger productions that were intending to apply in 2023 had to push their projects into this year’s calendar and that was mainly due to industry-wide uncertainty brought about by the labor disputes.”

Moving forward, the state’s industry is gearing up for a year where production is full steam ahead.

Kentucky’s Offer

The greatest asset in the growing number of productions that are choosing Kentucky as their home base is the state’s KEI program. The trickiest part of deciding where a production will take place can largely depend on where funds can stretch further.
Kentucky started its film tax incentive program in 2009, although grappled with what it could offer filmmakers for many years before the state’s legislature discontinued the program in 2018. In 2022, the state revitalized the incentive program, boosting its industry to a new level.

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Compared to California, Georgia and Illinois, who rank highly in the U.S. for film tax breaks but render non-refundable tax credits, the state offers a fully refundable tax credit with a $250,000 minimum spend.

The state offers a 30% to 35% refundable tax credit, for up to $10 million, qualifying productions can see the full lifecycle of film processes take place in the state. In addition, productions will find a readily available, skilled crew base of over 16,500.
Since the program gained new life in 2022, Bates said that experienced crew members that had left the state to seize job opportunities in the nation’s film hubs now have returned to Kentucky to work, even welcoming the arrival of new residents who prefer the affordability, culture and industry opportunity the commonwealth offers.

This provides a positive outlook on what is to come for the state’s entertainment industry. As more projects move in, regardless of scale, the more the state can work to provide adequate infrastructure needed to fulfill the needs of any production. 
Although, naturally, Kentucky’s geographical landscape delivers unmatched filming locations that can’t be found in studios within the nation’s leading film hubs.

“You have to drive a long way to get from east to west here in Kentucky and in that drive, you’re going to see a lot of beautiful country,” said Bates. “Quite frankly, there isn’t a place on the globe that Kentucky is not able to double as with a little creativity and movie magic.”

Set The Scene

Chances are, if a production is taking place in Kentucky, filmmakers have chosen to capitalize on the over 1,300 diverse on-site film locations available throughout the state. 

“Aside from the tax incentive, one of our greatest assets here in Kentucky for filmmaking is the small town atmosphere you’ll find in any corner of the state,” said Bates. “That’s important because when production companies go to sell their content, these types of small town America settings sell exceptionally well in the foreign and ancillary markets abroad.”

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The sites not only set the scene for both modern and historical time-period pieces but can meet the needs of any genre. Fantasy or horror comes to life, set within the depths of the state’s Dixon Cave or nightfall at Ouerbacker Mansion. Romance can unfold over a bite at Roadside Diner or under Lexington’s city lights. Kentucky can truly become a creative’s playground.

Although magic can be made in the great outdoors, the state has upped its studio offerings in recent years.

Kentucky-based Wrigley Media Group operates the state’s largest production facility, Wrigley Woodhill Studios, from the heart of Lexington. The 52,000-square-foot facility, formerly the site of Woodhill Cinemas, features three sound stages of various sizes, production offices and green rooms. In addition, Wrigley’s HQ, located 30 minutes away in Newtown, has all the essentials needed for post-production work to take place. The space offers a massive 60x40 cyc wall, production offices, green rooms, equipment, nine Avid edit bays, two offline edit bays and an audio recording studio in one place.

In Louisville, Kentucky, redevelopment of Louisville Gardens is underway to introduce a new 40,000 square-foot studio. River City Entertainment Group has invested $65 million to revamp the facility with a look reminiscent of its days as the Louisville Armory, but with a twist. The studio has plans to include four stages in addition to restoring the building’s original offices and its upstairs black box theatre. To preserve the history of the 119-year-old venue, the company also plans to include retail space and a museum that captures and shares the building’s legacy.

Kentucky is intent on building assets to better serve its emerging film industry and providing the resources needed to get projects in motion. It’s an all hands-on deck scenario: The state has the incentives, locations and crew to make it happen. All that’s missing is you.  

Alexis Elmore
Associate Editor of Site Selection magazine

Alexis Elmore

Alexis Elmore joined Conway Data in 2022 as associate editor for Site Selection. A 2021 graduate of the University of Georgia, she studied journalism and communications before moving back to Atlanta to pursue her career. As an editor for Site Selection and contributor to Conway's Custom Content guides, she writes about economic development efforts and corporate growth happening around the globe.


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