Film industry taking notice of Arkansas (updated)

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 296 views 

A recent amendment to a 2009 Arkansas law is already making a buzz in the film industry and local people in the industry hope that buzz only gets louder.

The Digital Product and Motion Picture Industry Development Act 27 of 2009 created incentives for film makers to produce, film and cast their productions in the state. This includes everything from feature films to short independent films or commercials.

The concern within the industry was, however, that it wasn’t enough incentive and that Arkansas was losing out opportunities to nearby states that offered better incentives. There were numerous changes in the law, but the most notable is the increase from 15% to 20% potential rebate for some of the associated costs with producing a film in the state.

With the increase in rebate, also comes an increase in responsibility. The amount a film must spend in the area was increased from $50,000 to $200,000 per production.

Dustin Solomon, co-owner with wife Jami of MutinyFX, said he would like to see more films brought here because it would cut out needing to travel with his family to work and it would greatly improve the economy of the state.

MutinyFX, located in downtown Bentonville, offers visual effects and post-production services for the film industry. Although they do some commercials, the company’ primary mission is to help small-budget films streamline their production process to reduce costs, thus creating more sustainable business practices.

Solomon said that when they went to Michigan recently to produce a film, the crews spent money in the area and helped boost that region’s economy. Michigan offers better incentives than Arkansas, he said.

Another disadvantage for Arkansas film production is not has having some of the same resources, at least to the level that other states have. For example, if a film needs a beach shot, a desert shot and a big city scene, they would have to go elsewhere. Arkansas has plenty of natural resources, but not as many large cities and of course, no ocean.

Even with the disadvantages, there are many reasons that people do want to come to Arkansas, he said.

“There’s been a lot of heart and passion for the industry in the area,” Solomon said. “What you need is to have the talent, resources and capital. We have the infrastructure here already (adequate temporary housing, etc.). There’s nothing we can’t get here (if we don’t have it already).”

Solomon spoke of a recently created database of resources in Arkansas, called Arkansas Production Alliance. The site allows people in the film industry to search for specific locations and other production needs to make a film in Arkansas.

Arkansas Film Commissioner Christopher Crane said that the site is a data tool that takes an “active approach to the industry” and it’s tied to a national database. He is also pleased at the increase in film producers being interested in Arkansas.

“The amended law is already creating a buzz in the industry,” he said.

He’s also been working with local universities to change their curriculum as a source of workforce development so that the crews are available and ready to hire. This helps the production companies and it provides more jobs for people in the state.

“We’re on our way,” he said.

Kim Pease has been involved in the film industry for most of her life but that came to a “screeching halt” when she moved to this area six years ago. She agrees that resources, lack of incentive funding and shortage of a talent pool has played a part. All of that is changing, however.

Historically, to continue working in the industry, Pease had to begin secure contacts in major markets. She now operates Faces Inc. Agencies and the NWA Talent Society and Casting Center.

Pease is also a facilitator of NWA Filmmakers Forum, NWA Director of Arkansas Movie Makers Organization.

“While scouting and developing talent for major markets I came across an incredible amount of local talent with little to no opportunities,” she said. “I would say about two years ago is when I started to get requests from an increasing amount of local filmmakers for actors. Most had been using their family and friends for projects. It seems there was just really nothing organized to nurture a healthy film community” Pease said.

“In fact, I have been a motion picture make-up artist for 20 plus years and worked with Oscar-winning actors and could not even find out how to get my name on a working state resource list. So, we started our own. We now have more than 1,200 actors and crew on our resource list.”

The last year has been incredibly active in the industry, she said.

“During the last year, casting and resourcing film production has taken over. We have cast and supported now close to 60 film projects,” she said. “Most of the films have been for local filmmakers and student films. However, we have also cast four major motion pictures and have two more epic scale films coming this summer.”

She’s also had conversations and negotiations with at least seven major production houses about film and television projects.

“As, it looks right now, there will be three major film productions happening in Northwest Arkansas in May, June and July,” Pease said.

She said one of the films is Greater, which is the Brandon Burlsworth story. Another movie is a faith-based film called Beloved by producer Laura Wohlford, which will be cast in the area April 20.

Other locally cast or shot films include House of Talon and Gordon Family Tree, which was shot earlier this year.

Valley Inn will be another movie shot here this summer, Pease said.

The new movie CAMP features local actress Ann Ayres and the producers and many other team members have close Northwest Arkansas ties.