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Industry summit brings together ‘balkanized’ Columbus film community

While presidents, chancellors and prime ministers had their hands full with the G7 Summit Sunday and Monday, a different group of leaders had yet to get started.

The first annual Columbus Film Summit was held Tuesday, a six-hour gathering of people professional and amateur, in government and in the private sector, but all part of Columbus’ small but growing film scene.

Film Columbus (formerly the Greater Columbus Film Commission), a nonprofit with the mission of promoting filming in and around the city, put on the event, hosted by its interim director John Daugherty and sponsored by Film Columbus, the Columbus Arts Festival, the City of Columbus, the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Columbus College of Art and Design.

Hot on the heels of John Travolta’s “I Am Wrath” being filmed across the city, the summit acted as a forum for constructive ideas and criticism on how government, business, art and education could come together to make Columbus a “film city” in the likes of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Toronto and, of course, Los Angeles.

Daugherty didn’t have the answer.

“I’m personally going to learn a lot today, and I hope you all do too,” he said in his statement opening the summit, before he introduced Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.

Coleman was optimistic.

“Good things don’t happen in this city by accident,” Coleman said. “When you think about the film industry, break it down into two words, ‘film’ and ‘industry.’ The ‘film’ is for the creative types, and the ‘industry’ is for the business types, and we have to make it right for both.”

Coleman was met with applause when he touted Columbus’ low unemployment rate, and proceeded to talk about how the filming in Columbus not only can create jobs, but if it becomes an established industry, can create sustainable jobs and careers.

“It irks me to see … every film that’s been made in the city of Cleveland … Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, when I know Columbus is the best place in the country to produce a film,” Coleman said.

Richard Cowan, the producer for “I Am Wrath,” was the next guest speaker. He shared his experience in the film industry and also fielded questions from the crowd.

“This is an industry, and this is about jobs. Making this movie ultimately ends up being about 200 jobs. And these are family wage jobs, that pay good wages, pension and medical benefits,” he said.

Cowan went on to praise Columbus’ infrastructure and the variety of locations available in a short distance from downtown, both of which eased the production process, he said.

“The more we make films here, people will come,” Cowan said. “Once we get production going here, it will feed upon itself.”

Columbus offers a 35 percent motion picture tax credit, capped at $40 million biennially, for film production done in the city exceeding $300,000. Other states offer similar programs, and Louisiana in particular offers the same rate but without a cap, and has seen a considerable boom in its film industry.

Summit-goers weren’t all on the same page, however. Some debated whether states actually made money from the economic impact those tax incentives were supposed to encourage.

Others debated whether Columbus should instill its own municipal tax incentive to draw in movie production. Some thought Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus should work together on bringing more movie production to Ohio as a whole.

City Councilwoman Michelle Mills, a member of the Summit’s panel on incentives, said that while she thought Columbus was doing fine with Ohio’s tax incentive, she would be open to discussions about a municipal incentive.

“I think incentives help prime the pump in a local area that’s underdeveloped in film,” Ron Green, a film studies professor at Ohio State who attended the conference, said in an email.

Green also discussed another contentious point raised at the summit: monetary success versus the artistic value of film.

“Eventually the local community needs to grow out of need for incentives and develop a critical mass of talent, success stories, and film culture, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the critical mass needs to be driven by commercial success and the bottom line,” he said.

Film’s role in Columbus’ arts scene as a whole was questioned as well. While City Councilwoman Eileen Paley, also on the incentives panel, said that events like the Fashion Meets Music Festival marketed Columbus as an arts city, some in the film community didn’t think it was enough to advertise the city for movie production.

“Until we really embrace film as much as we embrace other art forms, it’s tough to call ourselves an arts city,” Daugherty said.

At one point, a chicken-and-egg conundrum presented itself: Does investing in local filmmakers bring in mainstream producers, or is local talent best served by bringing in big producers that can bring with them an industry necessary to sustain independent filmmakers?

Despite the uncertainty raised by the summit, Rooney Hassan, a third-year in public health and film studies who attended the event, found it productive.

“It seems like everybody knows each other or has worked together on some level, but this is the first time everybody is in the same room at the same time,” she said. “Literally just putting everything out there maybe hurt feelings or bruised egos, or it might even build so many more connections. This is the beginning.”

All in all, there were more questions raised than answers, but that might have been the point. The summit brought together the “balkanized” circles within the film community for the first time, one event-goer said.

“It seems like the questions are being asked, and the answers are out there, they just need to come together, and (this collaboration) doesn’t have to end today,” Hassan said.

One comment

  1. Hey Nick! Great writeup of the day’s event – super informative for everyone who couldn’t attend. Nice meeting you as well.

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