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Posts Tagged ‘Iowa Film Office’

”This is not about harming the growing film and television industry in Iowa, but about protecting public funds and the best interest of Iowans.”
Gov. Chet Culver

Okay, most people don’t think of Iowa as paradise. Not in the traditional sense. But as people wander into the state they’re often surprised to find a kind of paradise that could be described as a quality of life paradise. Blue skies, friendly people, safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, little traffic and the list goes on. But from a filmmaker’s perspective the last couple years Iowa have been seen as a film incentive paradise.

That could be changing. It was announced today that the governor of Iowa was halting Iowa’s well-known film incentives. This is what I found on KCRG TV’s website:

Apparent problems have prompted the Governor to step in. In a late email announcing the resignation of the state’s economic development director, The governor stated that, quote, “there have been insufficient procedures…to assure a full and accurate accounting of expenditures.”

He goes on to ask that “no further schedules of qualified expenditures be approved nor tax credit certificates be issued.”

Films are getting made here and according to a FORTUNE Small Business article called Hollywood on the Plains one company moved here from California saying, “These incentives really sealed the deal.” Tom Wheeler who had a key role in helping films get made in Iowa as the manager of the Iowa Film Office is on paid administrative leave.

Now there is some hope that once these problems are sorted out that the incentive program will continue. But the fear is that the momentum that has been built the last couple years will suffer. Welcome to the world of film incentives. I warned about all of this because of what I saw in Florida back in the 80s. If you try to build an industry on film incentives you must realize that sooner or later someone will offer better incentives than you.

Back in the day Florida lost out to North Carolina and Canada. More recently, just two years ago the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry was advertising that it was the #3 place in the country to shoot films. Then Michigan came on the scene with film incentives as a remedy to help replace jobs and money lost in the ailing auto industry. (Link to Michigan’s incentive debate.)  All of this competition has been a part of L.A.’s problem with runaway production as groups look for cheaper ways to make their films.

I was reminded of all of this when I saw Drew Barrymore on The Jay Leno Show talking about her new film Whip It! that opens in a couple weeks. I did some location scouting for the film here in Iowa for Mandate Pictures who produced the film. Iowa’s incentives were a draw but they ended up shooting most of the story (that takes place in Texas) in Michigan. Follow the money, right?

The effectiveness of the incentives is debated and that’s when they are run properly. Iowa’s situation appears to be an administrative issue. Time will tell if it was just sloppy accounting & paper work or something more fraudulent. (Rumors of films being totally funded by the Iowa film incentive program via sketchy billing methods and not employing Iowa residents as per the incentives agreement have been kicking around for months.) The film industry has always attracted its share of Bernie Madoffs. There’s a line from the movie Wall St. that says something to the effect of, “Money makes people do things they don’t want to do.” Perhaps in line with, “Money is the roots of all sorts of evil.” The film industry has it’s share of scam artists/investors who I’ve seen go to jail over the years as well.

If you’re a writer you can’t really get caught up in all of this or you’ll go crazy. (Okay, crazier.) Focus on writing great stories that others will fight to get made. Even if that means your story set in Montana ends up getting shot in Croatia.

Related article at Quad-City Times: Iowa official resigns amid tax incentive probe

State of Iowa Press Release with Gov. Culver’s letter

Related L.A. Times Article: Filmmaking incentives losing glamour in cash-strapped states

Nov. 3, 2009 Update: Iowa sued over halt to film tax credits

Scott W. Smith

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The 2008  Sundance Film Festival ended Sunday with Josh Tickell’s Fields of Fuel winning The Audience Award: Documentary.  I haven’t seen the film so I don’t know if Tickell shot or wrote any of the film in Iowa, but anybody who drives a Veggie Van around the country has to have an Iowa connection. The vehicle looks like it should be a permanent fixture at the Iowa State Fair.

Even the title itself, Fields of Fuel, appears to be a play on the quintessential Iowa film Fields of Dreams. On Tickell’s personal website he does offer a link to Biodiesel Education at Iowa State University in Ames.

I drove three hours across Iowa Monday (and past at least one ethanol plant)  for a week of video production in Sioux City. Though the cornfields are barren this time of year, you just sense those farmers are ready to grow some ethanol and make some money… and, of course, bring down gas prices and lower our dependency on terrorist filled countries for oil.

The Field of Fuel website (www.fieldsoffuel.com) does list the co-editor of the documentary as Sarah Rose who graduated with honors from the University of Iowa. She was in the same media studies program that also produced recent Oscar-nominated screenwriter Diablo Cody. Last person to head to Iowa City please turn out the lights.

Congrats to Tickell, Rose and the entire Fields of Fuel production team on their award. I look forward to seeing the film.

Another film at Sundance that received good buzz this year and definitely has an Iowa connection is the film Sugar directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. It’s a story of a baseball player from a small town in the Dominican Republic who comes to the United States to play baseball and among other places ends up playing ball in a small town in Iowa.

Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman wrote, “There hasn’t been a sports movie this original in a while, as Sugar journeys to the strange land of Iowa, where he joins a single-A team and moves in with a genial farm family.”

The movie is also reported to have a Field of Dreams dream as the lead character named Sugar is motivated to play baseball in Iowa after seeing the movie staring Kevin Costner. That reminds me of a great quote by Bill Romanowski of Calvin College who said that “Movies reflect the culture they help produce.” A great example of this is the movie Top Gun which was inspired by a magazine article about a real life, small group of pilots in training. When the film was released the Navy had record number of young men joining to become jet pilots.

“Movies reflect the culture they help produce.” Sometimes the results are positive and sometimes they are negative. But make no mistake, movies make a powerful impact on our lives and culture.

The filmmakers of Sugar shot much of the film in Davenport, Iowa and the surrounding Quad Cities and were one of the first to take advantage of recent tax incentives for filmmakers who spend over $100,000 in the state.

Earlier this month Iowa Governor Chet Culver in speaking about Iowa’s commitment to helping filmmakers said, “Iowa has a lot to offer the film industry and, quite frankly, we want more movies filmed in our state. As a television or motion picture producer with the greatest of expectations, in Iowa, you can find it all. The new film tax credit and training award send a clear signal to Hollywood: Iowa is camera-ready and open for business.”

To learn about the The Iowa Film Office visit www.traveliowa.com/film.

One a closing note on the Sundance Film Festival, I spoke with a production friend from Iowa, Jon Van Allen, yesterday and he was brave enough to drive his grip truck into Park City a couple days ago. He was on his way to California for a shoot and just couldn’t pass the opportunity to make a slight detour off I-80 to catch part of the festival.

He said it was cold and snowing with some famous people walking around. That sounds just like Iowa – except for the famous people walking around.

© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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