Next up from Kristen Erwin Schlotman, who runs the agency created to draw moviemakers to town

Kristen Erwin Schlotman, executive director of Film Cincinnati, found she had plenty to keep her busy during historic disruptions of the pandemic, then the extended strikes by both writers and actors. "Those were two very big occurrences that paralyzed our industry in a production capacity," she disclosed, "but it certainly didn't paralyze it in a development capacity."

During the strike, she said, "Everyone thought, oh, Film Cincinnati. Are you taking some time off during this?" She was not.

Unemployed artists were free to work on their own creative ideas to fill the pent-up demand that built up during the strikes. Studios were still planning for the days when work could commence.

"I would get phone calls and they'd say, 'What's Cincinnati look like at this time of year? How many leaves are on the trees? And if the strike should end in the spring, what's the weather going to be like in the summer?'"

Despite advances in computer-generated scenery and other digital technology, Cincinnati remains an appealing real-life destination for moviemakers.

"I don't think it's ever not going to be changing," she said. Even so, her phone keeps ringing with inquiries from producers and location scouts. If anything, interest will grow.

Schlotman revealed, "What's exciting about 2024 is Ohio nearly doubled their tax credit for productions shot in the state. We've been at $40 million, and now we'll be at $75 million. That gives us a lot of opportunity and tools to attract even more than what we're already doing."
Major projects that work on location for months represent a significant boost to local economies, via production workers' salaries and purchases from local businesses.

Among Ohio's approved 2024 tax credit approvals, two were cleared to collect more than $10 million each.

Director Barry Levinson, who shot part of his 1989 hit "Rain Man" in the Cincinnati area, brought a new project to town earlier this year. Titled "Wise Guys," the 1950s crime drama project was shot extensively in the area. The production even paid to shut down the historic downtown bar and restaurant Arnold's Bar and Grill so it could be redecorated and used as a recurring location. 

Right now, according to Schlotman, "There is a project here that has people employed and working again, both in front of and behind the camera. It will be in the area for a total of about three months." At the producers' request, she is not naming the project.

While scores of small Ohio towns have also appeared in tax-credited productions, cities like Cincinnati have advantages, says Schlotman.

"When a major motion picture is shooting, it is dictated by the 60-mile radius, the union radius. Any time you go outside that 60-mile radius, there is a fee for every mile." That makes cities with more infrastructure and skilled crews attractive to more complex projects.

Cleveland, with its bigger population and larger crew base has attracted some major projects that Cincinnati hoped to get. Schlotman said that it is partly due to a particular advantage: "Mainly because of their relationship with the Russo brothers, and Marvel, and the loyalty that's been set there."

Anthony and Joe Russo began their careers in Cleveland and used the city as a setting when they graduated to big-budget fare such as "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Captain America: Civil War," "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame."

Cincinnati has its own special attraction for bigger movies: Intact period architecture.
- Kristen Erwin Schlotman, Film Cincinnati
"We get a lot of period films, and because of that, we've worked with some of the best directors in the world and I credit that to the architecture first. Then, I credit the experience they get here -- the people in this city and our film office -- because they come back for second, third and fourth films."

In fact, she said, Cleveland and Cincinnati do not consider themselves competitors when it comes to attracting movie projects. Columbus, Dayton, and Hamilton also have local film commissions. All five stay in touch, acknowledges Schlotman.

"We talk a lot, and we truly believe what's good for Ohio, is good for all of us. If it did get competitive, then the tax credit wouldn't be statewide. And if only one of us was succeeding, then it wouldn't be a statewide initiative. So, we do believe that it has to be successful all over."

With video production growing exponentially, more and more skills are in demand for commercials, sports, instructional videos, web series, animation, and more. “Skilled local crew candidates help,” she said.

Another advantage: College programs in film and digital arts have grown bigger and more sophisticated. "They're turning out some really well-trained people," says Schlotman. "Some of those people would like to stay here. Is there enough opportunity here?  It depends on the person, and it depends where they see them themselves in this industry."

She predicts the expanded tax credits will double the amount of work available from out-of-town employers in 2024. "The films will be bigger, the jobs will be longer, there's a lot of opportunity now."

Schlotman notes more and more local residents are joining productions as department heads; meaning they hire and supervise specialists in areas such as costumes, makeup, and carpentry.

She recounted a recent phone call with an out-of-towner preparing to make an action movie. Her message: They did not need to import crew. The caller asked, "What department heads do I need?"

Schlotman's answer: "You know what? This is going to sound funny. You probably need a payroll accountant. We still don't have a payroll accountant in this town."

Also on her wish list: a major motion-picture catering company.

Schlotman has been working with economic development and small-business groups to expand the local services available for production companies. "We want to find vendors ... small businesses and markets that don't realize these opportunities are in this industry."

Using an example of a possible conversation with a dry cleaner, she believes, "I just have to speak 'production' with you for about an hour and get you to understand how to interview on this, and then, the job is yours."

Ohio motion picture tax credit facts sheet:
  • Offers refundable tax credits of 30% on cast and crew wages plus other eligible in-state spending.
  • Total tax credits available for 2023-2024: $50 million.
  • Extra tax credits potentially available for 2024-2025: $25 million.
  • Tax credits can go to movies, TV series, Broadway theatrical shows, commercials, games, music videos, teasers, trailers, and other promotional work.
  • Amount reserved for Broadway shows: $5 million
  • Applications for TV series or miniseries (including streaming projects) get priority over movies.
  • Recipients must spend at least $300,000 in Ohio.
  • Applicants must prove they have already raised at least 50% of their proposed production budget to be eligible.
  • Applicants pay a non-refundable application fee of up to $10,000.
  • Unused tax credits roll over to the next fiscal year.
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Read more articles by Margaret A. McGurk.

Margaret A. McGurk is a freelance writer, editor and media consultant. She was film critic for The Cincinnati Enquirer from 1995 to 2005.