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Columbus aims to reel in movie-making money

Chris Poche / Design editor

The Lantern will have daily coverage this week of “The Avengers,” which is scheduled to hit theaters Friday.

If the city gets its way, superheroes might be assembling in Columbus sometime in the coming years.

Mayor Michael Coleman’s office is working on a proposal to make the City of Columbus more attractive as a shooting location for major feature films.

Tyneisha Harden, communications coordinator for Coleman, said the mayor was inspired to spearhead a campaign to make Columbus more competitive when he was presented numbers comparing how much money was spent in Cleveland and Cincinnati on films.

“The mayor saw those numbers in comparison to Columbus and was pretty upset about that,” Harden said.

In 2011, about $3.7 million was spent in Central Ohio on film projects. In contrast, about $68 million was spent in Cleveland and Akron and almost $30 million was spent in Cincinnati in 2011, according to the Ohio Film Office.

Columbus’ plan, which Harden said is a “five-year plan,” is still in its early stages. Budget and other monetary figures are not yet known. The mayor’s office is, however, working with Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Film Commission to put together a plan to present to city officials.

“Our greatest challenge is coming up with a plan that we can present to the mayor that he feels like he can sell to other people in the city,” Harden said.

“Liberal Arts,” which was directed by, written by and starred Columbus native and “How I Met Your Mother Star” Josh Radnor, was shot at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. The film spent about $750,000 in Central Ohio, said Gail Mezey, film office coordinator for the Office of Strategic Business Investments. The film was released Jan. 22.

TV shows such as Lifetime’s “One Born Every Minute” and ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” as well as Safe Auto Group’s commercial campaign, were also filmed in Central Ohio in 2011.

On the other hand, a total of 15 projects were filmed in Cleveland and Akron, including “The Avengers,” which spent about an estimated $30 million in Ohio, Mezey said.

Joss Whedon, director of “The Avengers,” said in a conference call with The Lantern that he enjoyed filming in Cleveland.

“Cleveland had some financial advantages rebate wise, and that’s always a big thing for Marvel,” Whedon said. “And then, they also were very, very accommodating in terms of letting us blow up their city. Filming there was actually a joy.”

Six projects were also filmed in Cincinnati, the most notable of which was “The Ides of March.”

Cleveland has seen more success in attracting big productions because it is able to send representatives to Los Angeles, film festivals and expos to place itself on studios’ radar. Cleveland representatives visit Los Angeles four-to-five times a year to develop relationships and make connections with people in the industry, said Ivan Schwarz, executive director of The Greater Cleveland Film Commission.

The Greater Columbus Film Commission is not able to do that because it does not have the funding. It is a nonprofit organization that does not receive funding from the city, whereas the Cleveland and Cincinnati film commissions, respectively, while nonprofits, do receive money from the city.

“(Los Angeles is) where we’re able to market ourselves as a city because (the studios) don’t come here,” Harden said. “Right now, we don’t have that going on. That’s the biggest reason why we’re not seeing a lot of activity going on here in Columbus.”

In the 2009 calendar year, The Greater Cleveland Film Commission, which reports as The Greater Cleveland Media Development Corp., spent $545,524. The Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission spent $155,202 in 2008. In 2007, The Greater Columbus Film Commission spent $15,872. Those are the most recent figures according to GuideStar.org, where nonprofit organizations report their expenses and revenue.

Ohio has become an appealing location for studios because of the Ohio Film Tax Credit, Schwarz said.

Passed in 2009, it allows films that will spend more than $300,000 in Ohio a refundable tax credit that offers 25 percent off in-state spending and non-resident wages and 35 percent off Ohio wages.

The credit is capped at $10 million annually, but Ohio legislators are expected to propose raising the cap to $20 million and extending the credit, which expires June 30.

With the aid of the tax credit, as well as the mayor, a big-budget film such as “The Avengers” will “absolutely” shoot in Columbus some day, said Thomas McClure, executive director of The Greater Columbus Film Commission.

“We just need our city’s support, and we need to have presence in L.A.,” McClure said. “Columbus offers so many great locations, along with a large pool of filming resources.”

Local productions benefit hotels, transportation, restaurants, hardware stores, make-up counters and retail clothing stores in the area, McClure said.

While “Liberal Arts” only spent $750,000 in Central Ohio, it still benefits the local economy, McClure said.

“When several films like ‘Liberal Arts’ shoot in our city, it does bring immediate stimulation to the city … (but) maybe not in a huge way as a film like ‘The Avengers’ will,” McClure said. “However, attracting smaller films like ‘Liberal Arts’ all year long will provide a steady flow of work for the whole city.”

Apart from financial gain, Jeff Stang, store manager of Laughing Ogre Comics, located at 4258 N. High St., said he didn’t see a good reason why a film like “The Avengers” should shoot in Columbus.

“See, the problem is that most of the Marvel universe takes place in New York City, so you have to find something that can model either New York City or one of the boroughs, or something like that, and Columbus just doesn’t have the skyline to do it,” Stang said.

Some Ohio State students, on the other hand, are on board with a big-budget film shooting in Columbus.

“I think it would be good,” said Trey Schober, a first-year in mechanical engineering. “It would be huge. There’s a lot of really interesting places around the area, or just around the entire city, and it’s a cool place to film.”

Rachel Freese, a first-year in biomedical engineering, said she would like to see filming on campus.

“I could see some serious action films going on OSU’s campus, let’s be honest here,” Freese said.

While the city continues to work on its plan, Harden said the end goal is to be the most attractive city in the state for studios and filmmakers.

“We would like to be better than Cleveland in this field, but right now, we’re not at all,” Harden said.

Sarah Pfledderer and Andi Hendrickson contributed to this story.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

An earlier version of this story stated Ivan Schwarz was the executive director of the Greater Columbus Film Commission. He is the executive director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission.

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