In The News

  • Friday, September 13, 2019 8:30 AM | Anonymous

    By Daniel Patton      Sep 13, 2019

    Peter Hawley and Kwame Amoaku

    Peter Hawley and Kwame Amoaku

    Newly installed office-holders explain their plans for keeping Chicago and Illinois on the path of success

    The thriving regional film industry is only going to get better, according to two of its recently appointed top leaders.

    Illinois Film Office Executive Director Peter Hawley and Director of the Chicago Film Office Kwame Amoaku described their visions to an enthusiastic crowd of industry guests during a Gathering of Industrial & Cultural Film Community event on September 11 at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios on Wednesday night.

    Following gracious introductions from Mark Kelly, Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), Hawley and Amoaku both praised the growth of the city’s film production, which recorded nearly $500 million in spending last year. Then, after proceeding to express support for common themes like education and jobs, they each offered distinct but complementary plans for continuing success.

    Mark KellyMark Kelly

    Hawley, who remembers when Cinespace began transforming the vacant Ryerson Steel Plant into a major film campus, emphasized the importance of the Illinois Film Tax Credit, which was renewed by Governor JB Pritzker on August first.

    “That is what gets the shows here,” he said. “At the bill signing … a bunch of workforce people were there, and the stars of the Dick Wolf shows, and Dick made it very, very clear that they would not be here if it was not for the tax credit, and he wants to be here another decade, and we’ve got an extension until 2027 right now. And that is really really, important.”

    Amoaku, who considers the Chicago film community to be “more of a family to me than anything,” said that strengthening the Windy City’s unique cinematic voice is among his top priorities.

    “We want Chicago to create its own content,” he declared. “We have the means for a powerful production hub to exist here. We have writers. We have production people. Post production. We have everything we need here to create our own intellectual property. And I think that’s something that’s very important that we need to do.”

    Besides wielding extensive film credibility, both guests of honor can back up their words with significant past achievements.

    Before accepting his appointment with the state’s Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, Hawley spent more than a dozen years at Tribeca Flashpoint College, ultimately ascending to the position of Academic Dean.

    Amoaku, who worked as Location Manager for Dick Wolf’s Chicago Fire from 2014 to 2018 — has also earned dozens of acting, directing, and producing credits throughout his career.

     

    Stage 18, Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, September 11, 2019
     

    Community get-together
    Hawley and Amoaku addressed the audience in the production facilities of Stage 18, a Chicago film incubator located on the campus of Chicago Cinespace Film Studios.

    Hosted by DCEO and DCASE, the event drew a number of industry notables including CineCares Executive Director Sheila Brown, Chicago Fire star Eamonn Walker, former Chicago Film Office Director Rich Moskal, STORY Executive Producer Mark Androw, Free Spirit Media Executive Director Jeff McCartner, Chicago Underground Film Festival Artistic Director Bryan Wendorf, award-winning filmmaker Curtis Matzke, and Local 476 President Bradley Matthys and Business Director Mark Hogan.

    Stage 18 co-founders — Cinespace President Alex Pissios and Executive Producer Angie Gaffney — were also in attendance.

    Eamonnn Walker and Sheila BrownEamonnn Walker and Sheila Brown

    After the presentation, Brown expressed confidence that both Hawley and Amoaku “will make wonderful additions to their departments.” As the woman in charge of a foundation that provides youth from underserved communities with access to the film industry, she knows how to spot talent.

    “I worked with Kwame here at Cinespace,” she recalls. “He took some of my interns into the locations department on Chicago Fire and so forth. He’s done it all, and so has Peter.”

    Brown also praised the authenticity of Dick Wolf’s Windy City trifecta of shows — Chicago FireChicago Med, and Chicago P.D. — which are filmed at Cinespace.

    “What are they mostly doing? Shooting in communities where people look like me,” she explained. “There’s a different perspective when you have someone who authentically lives in that space, as opposed to someone who says, ‘I know what gang members talk like.’ It’s just different. It’s not saying one is better than the other. It’s simply saying it helps to have different perspectives on things to make it more rich.”

    Jesse Ruiz and Samir MayekarJesse Ruiz and Samir Mayekar

    Illinois Deputy Governor Jesse Ruiz and Chicago Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar also addressed the crowd. While increasing the event’s enthusiasm, they also described the exponential benefits that production brings to communities all over the state.

    “Expanding the film industry in Illinois will give our students a wider range of career and educational opportunities,” said Ruiz.

    “At five in the morning, when you’re getting ready to film, you need to get some food from somewhere,” said Mayekar. “Right?”

     
    Never a dull moment
    Speaking with Reel Chicago, Hawley and Amoaku seemed excited to admit that their new jobs probably won’t ever follow any sort of routine.

    Hawley, who visits Cinespace at least once a week, recalled the “good surprise” that greeted him when he began making the rounds of his new job. “I was shocked by the number of women in high level positions,” he said “UPMs, producers, location managers — it was great.”

    Amoaku, who deals with a myriad of departments to coordinate the city’s on-location shoots, looks forward to building bridges with residents who are affected by the process. “It’s not Hollywood coming to take over their blocks,” he explained. “These are blue-collar workers coming to make a living, and we need to make sure they understand that.”

     
    Send your film updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, dan@reelchicago.com.


  • Saturday, September 07, 2019 9:30 AM | Anonymous

    The Royal Starr Film Festival will bring dozens of independent movies and local filmmakers to the Emagine Theatre in Royal Oak through Sept. 15. 

    Organizers Luke Castle and Corey Milton dropped by the Fox2 News studios Sunday morning to discuss the event and the The Royal Starr Arts Institute.

    Watch the video above and click here for more information.


  • Thursday, August 22, 2019 10:00 PM | Anonymous
    BY ADRIAN GOMEZ / JOURNAL ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
    Thursday, August 22nd, 2019 at 10:10pm



    © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

    The landscape for film and TV in New Mexico is ever changing.

    This is one reason the state remains a “go to” area in the industry. In fact, Fiscal Year 2019 saw a record year in direct spending from the film industry here.

    According to the New Mexico State Film Office, during that fiscal year – which ran from July 1, 2018, through June 30 – the direct spend into the New Mexico economy was $525.5 million.

    This is up from $234 million in FY18 and $505.9 million in FY17, which had been the record high.

    And state officials expect a recent change in the film landscape to lead to even more spending.

    “Since the passage of Senate Bill 2, we’ve seen an uptick in inquiries in the state,” said Alicia J. Keyes, New Mexico Secretary of Economic Development. “Both metro and … rural areas are seeing that increase.”

    The bill, signed in March, became law on July 1. It raised the cap on what can be paid to film and TV productions in a single year from $50 million to $110 million.

    Some productions have also moved to the state from Georgia and Louisiana because of the political climate, as well as New Mexico’s film incentive package offering more.

    Film companies currently receive a 25% rebate on goods and service expenses for most projects in New Mexico, and some TV shows get up to a 30% rebate.

    An additional 5% tax credit will be added for companies that take productions to rural areas – which means 60 miles outside the Albuquerque/Santa Fe corridor.

    There are also carve-outs for companies that commit to stay in the state for at least 10 years. This includes Netflix and NBC Universal, who both made Albuquerque a hub for production within the past year. The productions for both entities aren’t subject to the $110 million cap.

    Since Jan. 1, a total of 33 projects have been registered through the New Mexico Film Office. A 34th production, Zoe Saldana’s “Keyhole Garden,” is slated to begin filming in Albuquerque on Monday.

    In FY19, 73 projects were filmed in New Mexico; 43 had a budget of $1 million or more.

    The scale of production ranges from commercials to feature films.

    Meanwhile, the Santa Fe arts collective Meow Wolf produced five multimedia projects in April and May.

    In June, Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek said he envisions that the Meow Wolf universe will have a TV series and comic books.

    “Our hope is that over the next 10 to 20 years, the company is spoken of in the same way as Disney, Marvel, Jim Henson,” Kadlubek said in June. “These are legends of storytelling and story universes. That’s our hope, and we are putting the intention out there.”

    Netflix is currently filming “Army of the Dead” and NBC Universal has the TV series “Briarpatch” on the ground.

    Keyes said, “The key to keeping the film industry successful in the state is having diversity.”

    Part of that diversity is having partners such as Netflix and NBC Universal planting roots for at least 10 years.

    “With the New Mexico partners, they are giving us much more stability and consistency,” she said. “What we’re going to see is the direct spend in the state slowly grow. In the past, we had years that went high and then would drop off. Having the partners and bringing stability will allow us to grow in all avenues of this industry.”

    Keyes also noted that Netflix and NBC Universal have a minimum direct spend requirement, so the state knows how much both companies will be spending.

    The state also expects to attract other film industry-related projects, such as those from Meow Wolf, which include a companion app.

    “Entertainment isn’t film and TV any more,” Keyes said. “It’s also interactive media. The line between all of them is blending.”

    With the uptick in the industry, New Mexicans who moved to Georgia or Louisiana are moving back to the state.

    According to the film office, there are no fewer than 15 projects currently filming in the state. Some of those include the TV series “Roswell, New Mexico” and “Better Call Saul,” and the films “Wander” and “Half Brothers.”

    “We’re not at capacity with crew,” Keyes said. “We still have a large crew on the rollover list. We need to continue to train people and we need to get them advanced training.”

    A new Native American film program is in the works and the state is also working with educational outlets to develop more programs for students.

    “We don’t want to expand too fast and we want our New Mexicans working,” she said. “It looks like we’re going to continue to steadily grow.”


  • Saturday, March 30, 2019 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    Carol Cain, Free Press Business Columnist Published 6:30 a.m. ET March 30, 2019 | Updated 10:11 a.m. ET April 8, 2019

    Every so often someone asks if Michigan should bring back the film incentives. They recall the impact and vibe the program gave the region for film and TV production, during the period when they were the most lucrative in the United States.

    The incentives were launched by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2008 to help an ailing state, capped by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011 and ended entirely in 2015

    But with a new governor and legislature in place, might this be the time to reconsider the incentives in some form?

    Kale Davidoff

    Kale Davidoff (Photo: Chris Gaede)

    Lots of folks, including “New Money” producer Kale Davidoff and “The Russian Five “ documentary director Joshua Riehl, both raised in Michigan, would love to see that happen. They say it would support the important artistic, creative industry that was catching on when the incentives ended. 

    The story of film incentives in Michigan has certainly come full circle. In 2008 the state was in crisis as the auto industry was in shambles and Detroit on the financial brink amid foreclosures galore, and young people bailing out with few job prospects here.

    Granholm came up with an idea of offering the most lucrative film tax incentives in the nation (up to 42 percent) to inspire more film work and hopefully economic development. The Legislature gave its blessing.

    It clicked. Big-ticket movies and stars including Clint Eastwood, Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino descended on Detroit, Ann Arbor and Traverse City. Movie production houses popped up in Pontiac and other locations.

    Flash forward a few years later under Snyder, who put the state’s budget under a microscope and determined the incentives didn’t provide return on the state’s investment. 

    The state awarded $400 million in incentives during those years, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

    “The program no longer exists, but the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office continues to retain and attract local and out-of-state productions by promoting Michigan’s diverse locations and growing local partnerships to support production activity,” said Otie McKinley, a MEDC spokesman.

     Davidoff produced his first film in Michigan, minus any incentives.

    “I have wanted to make films since I was a little kid,” said Davidoff. “It was after high school when the Michigan film incentives offered me the opportunity to work in the production offices of films (being done in Michigan) like 'LOL' and 'Youth in Revolt' that I discovered what it meant to work under producers and production management,” Davidoff said.

    Forced to move to LA

    That first film, “New Money," telling the story of a family dealing with wealth, drugs and the cost of education, will be available April 16 on Blu-Ray/DVD and streaming platforms including Amazon and iTunes. It is being released by Gravitas Ventures.

    “I worked in the film industry in Michigan from 2008 to 2016 but was forced to move to LA after the dissolution of the incentives,” he said. “It was devastating. Most people I knew in the industry are either no longer doing it or don’t do it in Michigan.”

    Davidoff added: “There were a lot of politicians integral in removing the incentives who would claim that they didn’t want to pick winners and losers, but we know they do that anyway for other industries.

    “I think a lot of politicians wanted to keep ‘Hollywood’ out of Michigan, but what they really did when they got rid of the incentives was kick a person in Wyandotte out of a job, make a business in Pontiac question a renovation investment, and convince a talented kid from Detroit that he or she has to move elsewhere to tell his or her story.”

    “New Money” was filmed here because Davidoff and Jason Kohl, the director who grew up in East Lansing and lives in Germany, wanted it done here. They found their own financing.

    Not having incentives is a major impediment when states including Georgia are dangling millions. Georgia has invested $800 million in tax credits, which the governor has said led to $2.7 billion in spending through things such as hotel rooms and auto rentals.

    "Unless you’re making a very small movie, it’s very difficult to convince investors to give up the 25-30 percent they might get back in another location," said Kohl. 

    He added, "I still want to tell Michigan stories, but have accepted that I will have to shoot those stories predominantly in Canada and Ohio, which have incentives. Something I wanted to say when they killed the incentive: Gov. Snyder’s commission pretended like the film industry was supposed to create permanent, 9-5 jobs, like in a car factory. That’s not how film works. People work on multiple films, of multiple budgets, in the course of a year. It’s a freelance industry, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a massive impact on an economy."

    As of 2018, 31 states offered some sort of film tax incentive, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    For Michigan to reconsider them now leaders would need to weigh, “whether incentivizing the movie industry is worth what they get in exchange” said Meredith Jordan, an author who has written about them. Leaders make such assessments on things like stadiums and other major projects.

    “Tax credits have reshaped the face of movie production in the United States,” said Jordan, author of "Below The Line: Anatomy of a Successful Movie.”

    Bad timing

    “Unfortunately we missed out on the incentives,” said Joshua Riehl, a film director from Port Huron. “The week I moved back to Michigan from Austin, Texas, where I went to film school, in order to seek funding for the ("The Russian Five”) documentary, they killed the incentives.”

    He spent seven years bringing his documentary to life.

    Riehl grew up wanting to be a filmmaker but a serious car accident stalled his plans. As he recuperated, his grandparents gave him a Detroit Red Wings Vladimir Konstantinov jersey — his favorite player. It inspired him to tell the story of how Konstantinov and four other Russians came to play for the Wings. He worked with Jenny Feterovich, a local producer, and Dan Milstein of Gold Star Mortgages to finish the film.

    Director Joshua Riehl interviews actor Jeff Daniels at his Chelsea Studio.

    Director Joshua Riehl interviews actor Jeff Daniels at his Chelsea Studio. (Photo: Meghan Melia)

    “I put my heart, soul and seven years of my life into making 'The Russian Five' to tell the ultimate Detroit underdog story, but as much as I've loved being back home around family and friends and the Great Lakes, the challenges of developing and maintaining a career in the film industry in Michigan are daunting,” Riehl said.

    “Professionally, I'd be better off building off of the success of 'The Russian Five' by moving back to Austin or going to Los Angeles,” he said. “But Michigan is home and I want to build something here, much like Richard Linklater did in Austin, Texas.

    Director Joshua Riehl interviews coach Scotty Bowman at the 2015 Hall of Fame Inductions.

    Director Joshua Riehl interviews coach Scotty Bowman at the 2015 Hall of Fame Inductions. (Photo: Gold Star Films, LLC)

    “At the same time, if that remains an arduous task, I won't hesitate to leave because as much as I love Michigan, I like being able to pay my rent just a little bit more,” he added.

    Davidoff will also continue his battle of convincing people to invest in films here.

    “Whether through grants, incentives, private financing, art needs support. And Michigan, like any state or region facing existential challenges and changes, needs art,” Davidoff said.“If you build that support, the business side of it will come.”

    Contact Carol Cain: 313-222-6732 or clcain@cbs.com. She is senior producer/host of "Michigan Matters,” which airs 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See L. Brooks Patterson (recorded before news last week of his illness), Milan Stevanovich, Mike Brennan and Michael Noblett on this Sunday’s show


  • Saturday, August 18, 2018 2:28 PM | Anonymous

    Published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
    By Susana Martinez
    August 18, 2018

    When I took office in 2011, we faced a projected $450 million budget deficit. To get state government back on track, we had to set new priorities, cut wasteful spending, reduce the size of the state bureaucracy and reform spending practices.

    As part of a broad, bipartisan agreement to close our deficit, the Legislature and I enacted significant changes to New Mexico’s film incentive program, including — for the first time — capping the amount the state would pay each year in reimbursements for film and TV production expenses. We also closed loopholes in the incentive that had led to past abuse. Then in 2013 — in recognition that TV projects are typically longer-running and provide more stable employment — we raised the cap to 30 percent for TV series in the Breaking Bad bill.

    As part of our reforms, smaller TV and film productions receive their rebate payments right away, and larger productions are paid out over several years. And, if there’s room under the cap, payments can be accelerated.

    These reforms prevented cuts to classroom spending and health care services that would have otherwise been made — and not just in 2011. Imagine if the state had been required to fund more than $100 million in film industry payouts each year during our recent energy price crisis; taxes would have been raised on families and small businesses, education and health care programs would have been deeply cut, or the film incentive would have been scrapped altogether.

    By capping the annual total payout of the film incentive, we brought stability and predictability to the state budget and ensured the viability of the film incentive for years to come. No longer would the state see large, erratic and unpredictable swings in annual spending to incentivize TV and film production.

    By any objective measure, New Mexico’s film incentive is working incredibly well — for our film industry, workers and taxpayers alike.

    Between 2014 and 2016, direct spending in New Mexico’s economy on the production of movies and TV series more than doubled — from $162 million to $387 million. The number of large production projects increased from 18 to 30.

    Then 2017 came along and shattered the figures from previous years. More than half a billion dollars were spent in New Mexico on over 60 large film and TV projects that produced nearly 450,000 days’ worth of work for industry employees. As is the nature of this cyclical industry, several of these productions have since concluded, and 2018 is expected to be more in line with previous years.

    The results speak for themselves and prove wrong the naysayers and special interests who insisted, with great hyperbole, that the incentive cap would kill our film industry back in 2011.

    According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states have ended their film incentive programs in recent years, often citing budget unpredictability as a reason. That is not the route we took. We chose to reform and improve our incentive instead, mitigating fiscal uncertainty while still providing room for the industry to grow and thrive in New Mexico. And grow it has! Any future adjustment to the incentive should build on this successful approach.

    Diversifying New Mexico’s economy requires us to compete for jobs — of all types and throughout the private sector. We chose to compete — over the long haul — for film industry jobs, just as we have for construction, manufacturing, health care, energy and other types of jobs. It will be a long road, but New Mexico’s economy is diversifying in front of our eyes. Our unemployment rate is at its lowest point in a decade, tax revenues are soaring, and more than 50,000 private sector jobs have been created since I took office.

    Choosing to compete — and to grow our economy in the right way — is clearly paying off.


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