Houston Chronicle: Less than two weeks since the nationwide release of 'The Help,' convention and visitors bureaus in Greenwood and Jackson have self-guided driving tours targeting fans of the book and movie. Tour requests from groups and individuals have risen dramatically over the past few days in Greenwood, where most of the movie was shot, said Paige Hunt, executive director of the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Inspired by the Steel Magnolias tour in Natchitoches, La., the bureau began planning its tour in May 2010, shortly after DreamWorks Studios announced The Help would be shot in Mississippi, Hunt told The Clarion-Ledger.
"We plan to have the tour indefinitely," Hunt said. "Steel Magnolias was released in 1989, and the tours are still around."
Hunt said the Greenwood tour not only includes both private houses used in the film and favorite hangouts of the cast and crew, such as The Alluvian Hotel, Tallahatchie Tavern and Webster's restaurant. "I received a call from a lady in Louisiana who is coming here with some girlfriends for a weekend getaway," Hunt said.
"They're not just doing The Help tour. They're taking a class at Viking Cooking School and exploring what Greenwood has to offer. The movie has brought a lot of excitement to our community."
Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman Marika Cackett says her agency offers two self-guided tours. A Belhaven tour highlights several Jackson streets mentioned in the book, as well as the childhood home of author Kathryn Stockett. A Jackson tour includes stops at the governor's mansion, Medgar Evers' home and Brent's Drugs, which is featured in the film.
Cackett said the tours could kick off a domino effect that proves profitable for hotels, restaurants and other businesses. "People read the book, see the movie, then Google Jackson, Mississippi," Cackett said. "It's cool to say we've been in a motion picture, and the residual effects from this could be a very good thing."
Bill Crump, chairman of the The Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Industrial Foundation, estimates the movie's direct economic impact at $13 million — a conservative figure, he says. "After seeing the success of the film and looking back on that Sunday afternoon in December 2009 when we first met with the production team, it's very emotional for me to see how successful it's been," Crump said.
"There's no reason we shouldn't have more films made here in Mississippi. With the movie's release, I think we have an excellent opportunity."
Crump said The Help gives Mississippi an advantage in the close-knit film industry. While attending the movie's premiere in Los Angeles, Crump reunited with some of the film's stars who reminisced about their time in Greenwood. "It doesn't hurt that Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard's little girl, had a wonderful experience here," Crump said. "Ron Howard is a prominent director, and through word of mouth, more people will hear about what Mississippi has to offer."
In addition, new film incentives approved by the Legislature have made the state more competitive, said Ward Emling, manager of the state bureau of film and cultural heritage. Mississippi's program this year increased its rebates to filmmakers from 20 to 25 percent to cover payroll for non-Mississippi cast and crew and 30 percent from 25 percent for in-state cast and crew payroll. Rebates are capped at $8 million per production.
During fiscal 2010, the Mississippi Film Office coordinated the activities of more than a dozen productions, including films, documentaries, music videos, short films and commercials. Emling said the film bureau is reviewing feature productions under the $20 million budget range.