Missouri missing out on millions as ‘Ozark’ is filmed in Georgia

It’s a place that is so well known to Missourians, most natives know it simply as “The Lake,” where millionaires live alongside the working class, seedy strip clubs are just down the road from five-star restaurants, and there is definitely a difference between those who see “Party Cove” as the place to see and be seen, and those who avoid it like the plague.

One of the few iconic scenes from “Ozark” that was filmed in Missouri was at Lovers Leap. The foreboding scene closes out Episode 1.

The Lake of the Ozarks is the setting for the new Netflix original series “Ozark”, but was only filmed there for seven days. The rest of the taping took place at Allatoona Lake, just north of Atlanta, Ga., where sets were built with painstaking care to properly reflect authentic Lake Ozark landmarks.

Why? Because, just like the show’s plot — money laundering — every million matters.

“The film production incentives for Missouri ended in November of 2013,” said Joni Tackette, a casting director based in Webster Groves. “‘Gone Girl” was the last major picture to take advantage of the program.”

As the camera pans out, a very isolated Byrd family stands atop Lovers Leap.

Tackette is also president of the statewide organization MOMMA — Missouri Motion Media Association — which lobbies the legislature each year to bring back film tax credits to our state.

When those tax credits were still in place, Tackette explains, a production company could apply for the credits, which were overseen and audited by the Department of Economic Development. Once authorized, a production company would receive anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent of their expenditures in Missouri.

How much money would that mean to a filmmaker?

“Say it’s a $12 million production and if they come and shoot in Missouri,” Tackette said. “They can get back 25 percent, so that’s $3 million. That’s a big deal.”

Missouri is one of just 12 states that do not have such incentives in place for the film industry.

“So we’re no longer competitive in the industry for major motion pictures and television projects,” she said. “And a movie is one thing — a movie might come in and spend $12 million dollars. But when you look at a TV series, that’s a whole different ballgame of economic impact. Let’s just use ‘Ozark’ for example. They shot the entire fall of last year, August through December, and the majority of that was shot in Georgia. So, if they’re renewed for another season, they’re basically already established in a certain area. And if it’s a really popular show, it can easily go three, four, five seasons. So it’s really devastating to the Missouri production community, and the community of the Lake of the Ozarks when they don’t get the repeat economic activity. Losing a TV series is a big deal for our state.”

State Rep. Kathryn Swan of Cape Girardeau, where “Gone Girl” was filmed, continues to try to reinstate film tax credits. She tells her fellow legislators the production of “Gone Girl” meant a $7 million boost to her hometown. We can only assume the success of “Ozark” only adds fuel to her fire.

Missouri viewers react:

“I think the shows overall, inaccurate portrayal of the area would make people who don’t know better, not be in a rush to visit. It’s a great show. It’s more appropriately set at Table Rock Lake down around Branson which would be a better depiction of some of the “locals” as well. It’s just simply NOT ACCURATE, taken as a whole. But it is great TV.” Dylan Morgan, Lake of the Ozarks

“Reminds me of ‘Breaking Bad’. But definitely not as good. I’m only four episodes in but I can tell it’s missing something.” —Kyle Kraus, St. Louis

“I grew up in Missouri and yeah, the show hit home for me. There are good and bad things, everywhere, but the mix of guns, religion, strip joints, drugs, hillbillies, rednecks, rich white bigotry… Those and snow are the reasons why I left, to be honest.” —Barb Grob, Key West

“Obviously the region is considerably more cosmopolitan than they are portraying it as, however 20 or 30 years ago it might be more accurate. The accents are more Arkansas or Mississippi, and I think that’s overdone a little bit. The geographical references that I’ve seen so far are spot on. One interesting dynamic that they might have thrown in there is the extensive list of Hollywood A-listers, music and sports celebrities that have second homes there. The Lake is really two different worlds, the world that exists for the locals, and then a much different world that exists for the tourist and part-time residents.” —John Scheper, St. Louis (former Lake property owner)

“Just finished all 10 episodes and loved it and can’t wait for next season (if they have one). Beneath the language, violence and drugs there is a message of family. I loved ‘Breaking Bad’ and to me this had many similarities.” —David Griffith, Jefferson City

“Bought our place 18 years ago. I don’t have a lake view where I live, but do have shared access. Sadly, there are people living around the Lake that haven’t any electricity or running water. Plywood structure with tarp roof. Even a mobile home would be a step up.” —Scott Walker, Jefferson City

“The only characters that show any level of sophistication are either from Chicago or Mexico. If all that I knew about the Lake came from ‘Ozark’, I’d avoid it like the plague. That said, I couldn’t stop watching.” —Ken Krueger, St. Louis

“I moved to the Ozarks 35 years ago from D.C. One of my first assignments was photographing a drive-in chapel on the strip in Osage Beach and I remember thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here.’ I think it is spot on.” —Kevin Manning, Prince George, Va., and former St. Louis photojournalist

“It’s the Ozarks and the perception of someone who is portraying only a very small area. How can they make it look so dreary ALL the time? Hardly see sunshine. I suppose if one only hangs with the unsavory all one sees is unsavory, but there are people in the Ozarks to which this does not apply and they sure are not showing any of that! In order to watch it, I am having to pretend it is not about an area with which I am familiar.” —Jennifer Allen, Jefferson City

“In the summer it’s a party town. Toothless hillbillies may be there but they aren’t the whole town.” —Mack Kirk, Brisbane, Australia (formerly of Jefferson City)

“One of the things that stuck out to me as accurate was on at least one occasion, Bateman referred to ‘Jeff City’ rather than ‘Jefferson City’. Well, maybe it’s a toss up whether that makes it accurate or inaccurate, because it’s very authentic for locals to use and he would have heard that, but no import ever uses that wording. At least not that quickly after moving here.” —Jen Hemeyer, Jeff City

“I loved ‘Ozark’, but I think the show ultimately betrays its setting by choosing to film in Georgia rather than Missouri. Having grown up in the Ozarks myself, it becomes obvious that this is not Missouri. Even the regional dialects are all over the place. Great storytelling, poor authenticity.” —Kris Loring, St. Louis

“Living here the last 25 years, I find it amusing and non-offensive. The characters portrayed are fictional yet you could probably find them in any town. I wish there were more incentives to film in Missouri, as it is beautiful here! The dialect is probably more authentic to Georgia. I love the Lake. I loved ‘Ozark’. Jason Bateman is fantastic! (I’d probably watch him read the phone book.) Can’t wait for the next season! —Kari McCowan, Camdenton

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