Cincinnati Rolls Out The Red Carpet

Producer Jim Amatulli can rest a little easier as he starts production in Cincinnati on his new movie, "Life After," knowing that when the film reaches the box office he will break even $1.2 million sooner thanks to Ohio's new film tax credit.

"The reality is filmmaking is a risky business," says Amatulli, who says his roughly $5 million budget allowed him a $1.2 million credit. "Tax incentives can help you get a return on your investment. It can make a big difference."

The film industry is undergoing a radical shift as more production companies move their projects out of traditional strongholds such as California and into up and coming locations that offer aggressive tax incentives to get their business. Tempting moviemakers to leave Hollywood and produce their films in other states and countries has become competitive sport among governments looking to enhance their own economies and increase opportunities for employment.

Ohio jumped into the action last year when the state enacted a refundable tax credit of up to $5 million per movie, 35 percent of wages for Ohio cast and crew and 25 percent for non-resident wage and non-wage expenditures. It is capped at $30 million over 2010 and 2011. The new incentives have already caught the attention of filmmakers, says Jeremy Henthorn, director of the Ohio Film Office. This year, expenditures in the state from film production are projected to be more than $31 million. That's a significant increase over previous years before the tax credit was enacted. Six film projects are under way in Ohio, one each in Cincinnati and Akron, and four in Cleveland.

"Every month the number of inquiries increases about new movies being made here," says Henthorn. "Before, you might see a few movies every couple of years."

David Lombardi, a University of Cincinnati DAAP graduate and Northside resident is a freelance digital effects artist and supervisor.  Lombardi says that film producers don't make a business move these days without checking on the financial incentives offered in the location they want to film.

"Not only are they ready to take advantage (of tax credits), they look for it," he says.  "It's been happening for years."

Aside from money considerations, however, Cincinnati is also fortunate in other ways that give it additional appeal to movie producers, says Lombardi.

"I think the talent base is here," he says, "and you have a good range of locations from urban to rural.  Topographically this area is very diverse."

Aymie Majerski, executive producer at Barking Fish Entertainment based in northern Kentucky, says that due to a thriving corporate film industry here, Cincinnati is home to a diverse talent pool of production crew professionals that can help it to attract filmmakers. Majerski just completed a documentary about the career of Pete Rose titled, "4192: The Crowning of the Hit King," which premiers here July 14.  At least 90 percent of the movie was filmed in Cincinnati. 

She says Cincinnati has unfortunately lost valuable film professionals in the past to cities such as New York and L.A., but she hopes that will change now.

"Sadly, we've lost a lot of talent to the West and East coasts.  The incentives offer more chances of keeping those people here."

Majerski says Cincinnati has seen a lapse in moviemakers' interest in the area and she feels the tax incentives may very well reverse that as well.

"That's the reason we haven't had a major motion picture filmed here since 'Traffic,'" (the 2000 blockbuster about drug trafficking in the U.S. and Mexico that was partially shot in Cincinnati) she says of the lack of a tax incentive before 2009. Now that the financial incentives are in place, she hopes movie producers will come back.

"I would like for the major studios and independent filmmakers to give Cincinnati a serious look," she says.  "I want them to know that if they start to negotiate deals to work here that the whole community would welcome them with open arms."

Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky Film Commision Director Kristin Irwin says the bottom line is that moviemaking is big business and Ohio and its communities should be as competitive as possible to attract it.

"Film production is an economic development tool that cities can't ignore," she says. "When jobs are needed this is too important to pass up."

Check out our Soapbox video revisiting locations from the feature film "Traffic" shot in Cincinnati and released in 2000.

Photography by Scott Beseler
Still image from "Artworks" at Nicola's in Over the Rhine (image provided)
Barking Fish camera operator, Jeremy Whitcomb
(image provided)
On set with Pete Rose, a Barking Fish production (image provided)
Kristen Erwin
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