Soapdish: Hooray for Hollywood
Cincinnati was atwitter last month, both literally and figuratively, with the arrival of the big bucks Hollywood production known as "The Ides of March."
Unless you've been living under a sizable meteorite for the past 30 days, it was hard to miss the ballyhoo and Beatlemania that accompanied the return of prodigal, pride o'Mason High son George Clooney and his coterie of stars and crew.
Staying at The Cincinnatian
and frequently dining out (the Pietoso family, for one, will be sad to see him leave), by all accounts, Clooney and Co. acquitted themselves graciously and with dignity during their stay in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, the same could not always be said for Cincinnati. Local mainstream media such as the Enquirer engaged in an unseemly, Twitter-fueled internet-stalking of cast and crew that bordered on the absurd. Armed with cyber-ready updates, Clooney-philes (and Gosling-philes et al.) took to the streets to coo and shriek at their idols. While some level of base idolatry is to be expected, it was clear that local media outlets saw this story, not unlike a "snowpocalypse," as an opportunity to drive viewers and page hits, and opportunistically responded - a "Clooneyocalypse" if you will. In the emerging hubbub that followed cast and crew, one comment overheard more than once was "Cincinnati, act like you're been there before." But then again, come to think of it, Cincinnati really hasn't been "there" too often. Oh sure, there are the well-documented examples of "Traffic," "Rain Man"…um…"Milk Money," and others, but let's be honest, Cincinnati has not typically been a go-to location for Hollywood productions in recent years.
And why is that? Well, the answer is pretty simple. Cold hard cash.
Hollywood chases the almighty dollar, and that dollar is typically provided in film tax incentives. States such as Louisiana and Michigan have re-positioned themselves as Hollywood 2.0 thanks to generous film tax credit "incentives." Although styled as tax credits, these incentives are really nothing more than rebates to the filmmakers. Ohio recently enacted a modest, albeit important, film tax incentive program last year, and it's a pretty safe bet that the Ides crew would not have been here absent that incentive. Ohio's program provides for a 25% refundable credit up to $5 million per production. The total available for the year 2011 is $25 million (Michigan's, by contrast, was $100 million).
Supporters of the credit, including our very own Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission
, lobbied long and hard for the incentives, and we're now reaping the benefits. Although some may decry the credits as "too little too late," it is clear that Hollywood can and will turn on a dime in order to chase the bucks. For a ready example, one need look no further than Michigan. Detroit, as well as the entire state of Michigan, has been re-imagined over the course of the past three years as Hollywood Midwest. Countless films have been shot there, leading to a cottage industry of tradespeople and suppliers that is just now starting to bear fruit. While some will justifiably criticize the programs as nothing more than "parachute productions" with non-residents who simply jet in and jet out, the fact is that these things don't happen overnight. It takes time to build up the talent pool, and Michigan's overly-generous (40%) incentives jump-started what had previously been a rather dormant industry in the much maligned state.
Unfortunately for many, however, Michigan's newly-elected Governor Rick Snider vowed last month to vastly scale back the credits. Despite howls of protests in the filmmaking community, the results of Snider's budget cutting proclamations were predictably swift. Within a week of his announcement, one of Hollywood's big budget productions, "The Avengers," announced they were pulling out of plans to film in the state this summer. I spoke with Michigan journalist Jeff Wattrick about the brouhaha
. He observed that "hysteria is a good word to describe the sentiment toward the film tax credit. The right is convinced the program is throwing free money for Hollywood "libruls" [sic] and providing no benefit to the state. The film credit advocates brush off legitimate concerns about the state's return on investment with lots of fuzzy reasoning about how this bolsters the state's image.
This begs the question as to whether Michigan's loss could be Ohio's gain. The answer to that, so far at least, is a resounding "yes." The above-referenced $40 million Avengers production that vacated Michigan is now headed to Cleveland. Governor Kasich, although having little if anything to do with the coup, has been quick to crow a schadenfruede-like victory over Michigan's loss. What this means for the future of the state incentives, however, remains to be seen, and Kasich has not revealed much regarding future intentions.
According to a recently released study in Michigan by Ernst & Young, for every tax dollar spent on the film/TV business in Michigan, nearly $6 of business is generated. And it doesn't ALL need to be star-laden Hollywood productions. As Cincinnati production freelancer Laura Chenault notes, "Our day to day, bread and butter is TV/commercials and videos. In my dreams the corporations who are HQ'd here would shoot more in Cincy, hire Cincy crew/talent/sound and voiceover talent and that will have year round dollars impact and do wonders in creating a bigger and better market to attract and retain the 'creative class' that all those companies claim to want to do. We bleed talented new grads every day because there is not enough film/video/edit work for all."
How the incentives are structured can go a long way toward enhancing the local benefits. As Wattrick commented, "In truth, the credit isn't a terrible idea but it's probably too generous and not specifically structured to ensure productions are incentivized to give Michigan workers/firms first crack at behind-the-camera support work."
All good points, and Ohio's program, which currently does not extend past this year, could conceivably be tweaked in order to enhance the use of our local creative classes. What the future holds, however, remains to be seen, and industry folks are casting a wary eye towards Columbus with some level of trepidation. Following Kasich's election, top staffers resigned their posts from the Ohio Film Office
as part of the transition. Kasich has yet to appoint replacements, although his spokesman has indicated that the resignations do not mean the end of the office.
Given Kasich's giddy excitement over landing "The Avengers", and the obvious lesson to be learned from Michigan, one would think that the incentive programs will be extended. Then again, this is the man that killed the 3C rail. Time will tell.
Photography by Aubrey Rauen under full copyright
Ryan Gosling on the set of The Ides of March
George Clooney and crew in Cincinnati
Marisa Tomei on the set of The Ides of March
Ryan Gosling and George Clooney at Stock Yard on Fourth street downtown Cincinnati
Ryan Gosling in Covington, KY
Crew preparing set of The Ides of March