Film Commission 06-22-13

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June 20, 2013: Oklahoma Film Commission Workshop Held in Ponca City

Jill Simpson, Director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, Chris Kucharski, Consultant, and Yousef Kazemi, Locations Coordinator held a four hour workshop on June 20, 2013 in the Chamber of Commerce Conference Room for eighteen Ponca City residents including representatives of city government, the police department, Ponca Playhouse, the Ponca City Development Authority, the Ponca City News, RCB Bank, Eastman Bank, and the Chamber of Commerce to discuss what Ponca City can do to recruit the film industry and to support films crews if they come to our community. OF&MO staff said this workshop had the largest turnout of any city in Oklahoma for a workshop and showed the tremendous interest in Ponca City in the movie industry.

Impact of the Defeat of the Movie Rebate Bill

OF&MO staff said they shared Ponca City's heartbreak and disappointment that the rebate bill was defeated in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The bill passed the Senate with flying colors but the rebate had become a hot button issue coming right after the tornado in Moore and that some representatives said that if you pass this bill you are taking money away from the first responders. Some of our representatives do not understand that the rebate is not a tax credit. The rebate is not pulled out of the general budget. The rebate is not money sitting in a bank account. The rebate is money that is refunded qualifying productions after the film is completed for taxable transactions made in Oklahoma. Costs of making film in Los Angeles have risen dramatically over the years. With 44 states now offering an incentive of one kind or another to the film industry, the lions share of production is now taking place outside of Los Angeles and New York. If there is no rebate, then movies such as "The Ends of the Earth" will not get made in Oklahoma and there will be no economic benefit to the state whatsoever.

"The Ends of the Earth" will probably have about a $25 million budget comparable to what it cost to make "August: Osage County." It is estimated that the State of Oklahoma would need a roughly $5.5 million rebate to be in the running to secure the production in Oklahoma.

It is time to talk to our representatives and let them know that this will be an A-list movie that will bring enormous benefits to Oklahoma. When they filmed "The Killer Inside Me" they filmed in Guthrie for 6 days, they filmed in Oklahoma City and in Enid. They filmed a total of 30 days in Oklahoma and the the average daily spend for the movie crew was $120,000. For every dollar rebated - $3 is spent in Oklahoma. It does not include any multipliers.

The same day that the $5 million movie rebate bill was defeated in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the House passed a $100 million rebate bill for coal and wind energy. The proof is in the numbers. "To the Wonder" was filmed in Bartlesville and then "August: Osage County" and that was 100 people getting per diem every day who spent that money in Bartlesville and the sales tax figures for Bartlesville showed the impact of those people.

The bill will come up next session and it is possible that the bill could be considered again in the House of Representatives as early as February. Although it appears that Jennifer Lawrence is under contract to make "The Ends of the Earth," the Weinstein company is not ready to make the movie yet. However, Lawrence has a backlog of movies that she is going to make and it may be a while before she is able to shoot "The Ends of the Earth." Any delay in Lawrence making the movie works in our favor because as long as the shoot date for "The Ends of the Earth" is pushed, we may get the rebates back in place so the movie can be made in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Film and Music Office (formerly the Oklahoma Film Commission) has been open since 1979. Although the bill to extend the rebate's sunset date beyond July 1, 2014 was not approved by the legislature this year, this does not impact the annual operating budget for the state office. But by not extending the sunset date of the program, the Oklahoma is sending a message of instability and that is the worst message you can send to the industry.

There are two movies that were pre-approved that are in the queue. "The Eleventh Hour" has a July 3 date when they have to have 50% of their financing in the bank and by August 2 they have to have 100% of their financing in place. The other film is untitled and it is a faith based move to be directed by Brent Ryan Green who has done other movies before. It's funding is in place. If a film misses their benchmark that money may go back for the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program queue. But the funds available are only $900,000 and the Weinstein Company needs $5.5 million to make "The Ends of the Earth."

Locations

OF&MO staff said that the incentives are good but you have to have the locations to make the movie. The community is very important. The people of Oklahoma have a huge impact. It should not only be easy to make a film in Oklahoma but it should be a great experience for the crew and the the community. People in the communities and in the film crew both have to have a good experience.

In the past most movies were made in New York City and in Los Angeles, but now those cities are putting up roadblocks to making movies because people are sick of the inconvenience to the citizens of having movies filmed in those cities. Now studios are finding it easier to get a movie made outside those areas. Projects that are done outside of Los Angeles are called Runaway projects. Twenty years ago Runaway projects were very rare and if you went to a studio and said you wanted to do a Runaway project, you said you were crazy. Now Runaway projects are the norm.

But the communities have to be service oriented and have to not make it a headache for movies to be filmed in Oklahoma. We have to give customer service with a smile. Someone gave the example of the Pioneer Woman Statue. What if the director of "The Ends of the Earth" wants to use the Pioneer Woman Statue in the movie but "we need you to move it over 100 feet to get into the shot." The proper answer to that request isn't "That's impossible" but "We'll get back to you." Not that we support moving the statue, but that provides time to come up with good alternative suggestions for the production.

The big studios always look to put movies in metropolitan areas. The studios want to be filming 15 minutes from the Oklahoma City airport or 15 minutes from the Tulsa airport. The only reason they would consider coming to Ponca City would be because of the unique locations of the Marland Grand Home, the Marland Mansion, and the Marland Refinery. But we don't want them to come here for three days just to do location shots. We want them to film as much of the movie here as possible and that means we have to have other locations for them. They need houses, they need streets, they will need a refinery, they need farms, they need oil rigs. It is out job to put together a package that shows all the other locations that can be used to make the film. When the Weinstein Company filmed "August: Osage County" they were originally only going to film one day in Pawhuska. But then they went to the location and saw all the other places they could use for location shows. They shot some scenes on a city block in Pawhuska. They shot inside a restaurant. They went out and bought a house outside of Pawhuska that they could use as the setting for the movie. Ponca City needs to show the movie crew that we have locations other than the Mansion and the Grand Home that can be used for the shoot.

David Keathly said that there are two books that were published five years ago on the "Historic Homes of Ponca City" and he sent out for three copies of the books to give to the Oklahoma Film office so they could get an idea of locations for other shooting.

The Permit Process

We have to teach the movie makers how to treat our communities. We have to have a permit process in place so that the community doesn't get walked on. We have to require that the studio has insurance in place. This is a business. Always have a signed locations agreement and permit. What happens if the movie crew shows up at the town square to shoot and the police chief says you can't shoot here. Nobody told me about it. There needs to be a permit process in place and the movie studio has to pay for the right to shoot even if it is only a dollar so that you have a business agreement. Then the movie crew can pull out the agreement when it comes time to shoot and say "we have a permit that lets us shoot here."

Handling the Media

Another important thing in dealing with a movie shoot is handling the media. If a community works with the production to ensure the privacy of the cast, it positions the community to have a good working relationship with production that can be beneficial in the long run and result in special media opportunities when convenient. You have to try to make them comfortable. Community meetings prior to the start of production are very beneficial to both the production and the community. With the advent of social media, any media coverage makes it more likely for paparazzi to descend to photograph the cast in order to sell those photos to the national press. This will impede on the production's ability to work in the community. The Bartlesville Examiner was very respectful when they were shooting "August: Osage County" and "To the Wonder" and they respected the movie studio's need for privacy. In exchange the studio gave the Examiner a first look at the press releases and let them sit down with the producer at the end of the movie for an interview.

Summary

In summary, it is still not to late to get "The Ends of the Earth" to shoot in Ponca City. If there is one thing that the people of Ponca City can do, it is to talk to our representative Steve Vaughn and get him on board with the economic benefits of making this movie here. Vaughn voted in favor of the rebate bill despite the opposition of his caucus. But we need to convince Vaughn not just to vote for the bill but to become one of the leaders in favor of this bill and to push for this bill to make it happen.