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Greening Little Rock: Ernest Green Story could mean $750,000 for Central Arkansas economy.

Muskie Harris, the 1990 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, sits crouched in a doorway at 1121 Pulaski St. in Little Rock.

He's in clergyman's dress.

Does the white collar signify another new direction in the life of the property manager for J.M. Realty Co.?

Sort of.

But Harris is not entering the ministry.

He wants to be an extra in "The Ernest Green Story."

The movie is scheduled to appear on The Disney Channel in 1993.

Green was one of the nine black students who attempted to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

The crisis at Central High hurt business development in central Arkansas for decades. Thirty-five years later, however, the retelling of the incident is bringing money to the state.

"There's a lack of awareness in the business community about what this means," says William Buck, director of the state Motion Picture Development Office.

Buck's office is a division of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. Buck conducted an economic study for the AIDC during the filming of the CBS-TV miniseries "The Blue and The Gray" in northwest Arkansas in 1981.

State officials wanted to know if the money they were investing in the Motion Picture Development Office, created in 1979, was being spent properly.

On the first day of shooting, Buck says $73,000 was spent at an area lumber store.

"In a 20-minute time span, this guy had reimbursed the state of Arkansas for what it spent," Buck says.

"The Blue and The Gray" had a $15 million budget. Buck says a large production doesn't necessarily mean more money for the state, though. For instance, the $20 million budget for "Biloxi Blues" meant $2 million for Arkansas in 1987. The $5 million budget for "A Soldier's Story" created an extra $1 million when crews came to the state in 1983.

The disparities are partly due to differences in talent payments, such as Matthew Broderick's $2 million for his lead role "Biloxi Blues."

Typically, Buck says, up to one-third of a movie's production costs are spent in the state where it is being filmed.

He estimates the $3 million to $4 million budget for "The Ernest Green Story" will bring $750,000 to the state during a seven-week production period.

Downtown Little Rock's Camelot Hotel is the major financial benefactor. The hotel serves as the temporary home for the entire cast and crew, some of whom arrived in Little Rock a month early to begin preparation for filming. Seventy rooms are used for offices and sleeping accommodations.

Thrifty Car Rental is renting 10 to 25 of its cars per day. One crew member purchased a car from Thrifty.

Thrifty's Pate Pearson says gross revenues generated from the rentals should total $30,000.

"It's a significant account," he says.

Thrifty grossed $50,000 on rentals for the 1990 production of "Stone Cold."

It's not just established businesses that are making money on the movie.

A Piece Of The Pie

Carol Abrams and Adrienne Levin, two of the three producers of "The Ernest Green Story," sit in a front bedroom of the house that will be used as the home of civil rights worker Daisy Bates.

They're with Kathrean Jennings, who built the house with her husband in 1962.

They want to make sure Jennings is happy, even though her front door has been taken off and replaced, her back door has been changed and the glass in her front window will have a brick thrown through it.

Jennings doesn't seem to mind.

She chats excitedly with the actress who plays Bates. Jennings says she has complete confidence the house will be left in better condition than when the crew arrived.

Jennings won't say how much she's receiving for the day and a half her house is being used.

Yet she smiles when she says, "They came through."

Even Jennings' neighbor received $20 for moving her car so it couldn't be seen in a shot. She wanted $50.

The inexpensive aspects of filming in Arkansas are negated by a lack of crew availability.

"The resources are limited," Abrams says.

Levin adds, however, that there is talent to be found in Arkansas. And she praises the Motion Picture Development Office.

The producers say the 5 percent rebate they'll receive for spending more than $500,000 in the state makes Arkansas an attractive place to film.

Buck says the rebate encourages the use of local talent.

This is Buck's second stint as director of the Motion Picture Development Office. He held the job from December 1985 until September 1986. He returned in January 1991.

When he ran the office the first time, Buck had to answer questions from AIDC officials such as, "Why so many calls to California?"

"We were the stepchild of the AIDC," Buck says. "We had to start a real education process."

Now, five people staff the Motion Picture Development Office, which has an annual operating budget of about $230,000.

"If you're going to do it, you might as well do it at an appropriate level," says Dave Harrington, the AIDC's executive director.

Harrington says it is difficult to find an accurate economic multiplier for what a film means to a state. But he likes a movie's advertising and tourism value.

"It sort of rekindles the spirit of a town," he says of the arrival of film crews.

Buck says the news media is treating his office differently these days. For the first time, news of a film wasn't relegated to the entertainment sections of newspapers. It was treated as a business story.

"After 10 years, we're a business," Buck says. "Thank you."

Buck and his employees spend about 40 percent of their time working on public and industrial productions and on regional and national commercials.

Buck's goal is for the office to be involved with two major films each year.

"I don't know that we will ever be a huge production center," he admits.

The lack of direct airline flights to Little Rock from the East Coast and the West Coast make cities such as St. Louis and Dallas more attractive.

Still, Buck believes he can meet his goal of two films per year starting in 1993.

Before that can happen, he has to make sure the filming of "The Ernest Green Story" doesn't alienate any Arkansans. That necessitated Buck getting out of bed at 1:30 a.m. recently to clear trash from the front of a house on Little Rock's Kavanaugh Boulevard. It didn't matter that a group of kids had put it there. All the resident knew was that a film crew had been there earlier in the day.

Following the departure of crews, Buck makes calls to every production site to make sure there were no problems.

And he continues to politely pay people who refuse to move their cars.

His twin goals are to keep Arkansans intrigued with movie production and keep movie producers interested in Arkansas.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:movie production
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jun 15, 1992
Previous Article:Selling Central Arkansas: Arkansas may be the only place that's a buyer's market.
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