News & Press

Melissa Chipman

June 01, 2017 | Insider Louisville

Tax incentives make filming ‘Smoketown’ miniseries in Louisville an advantage


It’s hot and steamy in front of the faux Smoketown Family Shelter. Most people who aren’t involved with adjusting cameras and other filming equipment are languishing together at tables under a tent. A couple of men are tossing around a football in the shade, and there’s a young boy in a purple sports jersey tooling around on a bike.

This is a scene that’s becoming all the more frequent in Louisville as local and out-of-town productions take advantage of Kentucky’s tax breaks for the film industry that were recently enacted.

“There’s a ton more interest in making films here now,” said producer Stephanie Whonsetler from the air-conditioned comfort of the makeup trailers. She should know; she worked on a total of six films last year.

“Crews are busy all year-round,” she said. Local film professionals have been holding training for new crew members and are creating new film professionals in Louisville. Whonsetler said even rural areas of Kentucky had small film industries.

“It’s nice to be able to tell out-of-town filmmakers who want to bring their key crew to town that we can crew 90 percent of your film locally,” she said.

This film has 50 crew members. Not just the technical crew, it employs craft services, hair and makeup, transportation, accountants and more, all from the area.

Qualified productions in Kentucky can take advantage of a refundable income tax credit of up to 30 percent of approved expenditures or 35 percent if they use Kentucky labor or film in a disadvantaged county. The Kentucky Film Office offers a lot of resources for out-of-state filmmakers.

“We really have the best incentives in the country,” Whonsetler said. “The current administration in Kentucky is really behind this… it feels very stable to me now.”

“Smoketown” is the name of the show she is working on now. It’s an eight-part miniseries commissioned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network — which, according to Nielsen Ratings, is “America’s most-watched faith channel” — filming in the Smoketown neighborhood and other sites around the city.

But “Smoketown” isn’t about Louisville’s Smoketown. It’s just a good name for a generic, somewhat down-on-its-heels neighborhood in Any City, U.S.A., Whonsetler said.

There are no big-name actors involved and around half of the 68 cast members are local actors thanks to the hard work of Kathy Campbell at Heyman Talent.

Rare Bird is a Louisville-based production company, and it is in the middle of a six-week shoot for the show. Shane Sooter, also a Louisvillian, is directing.

From the brief summary producer Cassie Arza gave Insider, the show sounds very much along the lines of other recent deep-dives-into-a-single-crime miniseries like “The Fall,” “The Killing” or “American Crime,” which have been popular lately.

The story centers on the Chapman family, beacons of the community, who run the Smoketown Family Shelter. But when a young girl is found murdered outside the shelter, the patriarch of the family is one of the prime suspects.

Arza said that the message of the miniseries is that law and policy aren’t working when it comes to issues like racial tension and that perhaps there is a spiritual answer.

Whonsetler thinks the show will air late this year. Post-production will be in Nashville and Los Angeles.