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Image is everything for state, movie biz.

Image Is Everything For State, Movie Biz

While a new production directory will be a valuable marketing tool for the Arkansas Motion Picture Development Office, there are more important matters to consider if the state hopes to land more film business, according to Yoram Ben-Ami.

Ben-Ami, who conceived and later produced "The Brotherhood" - the movie starring Brian Bosworth that was shot partly in central Arkansas last summer - thinks the film office should focus on aggressively cultivating potential filmmakers.

The Los Angeles-based producer says the MPDO "should be in contact with people here, take them to Arkansas and even pay for their flight." Then he asks, incredulously, "Do you know the film commission doesn't even have a car?"

That's a pertinent question these days because moviemakers are trying to escape the high costs of filming on the East and West coasts, and right-to-work states like Arkansas are eager to get the buiness.

Since 1983, $49 million has been spent in the state on projects ranging from feature films to commercial lensing to television movies. The economic impact left this year by 233 productions (two-thirds of them produced by local companies) was $16 million.

Natalie Canerday, acting director of the MPDO, says there's been an 837 percent increase in inquiries from out-of-state production companies since 1989. The problem is how to close a deal on more of those.

New Production Guide

One idea for doing that is taking shape under the direction of Jana Greenbaum, a Little Rock freelancer who works as a kind of jack-of-all trades in the production end of the entertainment industry. Greenbaum and other volunteers have compiled a new production directory that lists essential information for film directors interested in filming in Arkansas.

Ben-Ami believes the guide, which will contain comprehensive information on Arkansas-based talent, crew members and services, makes sense. "It will be more effective," he says.

The state has made it easy for producers like Ben-Ami to work here. Film permits aren't required in Arkansas, and the MPDO sometimes can arrange for free city and county services. But Arkansas has an identity problem. In certain quarters, the state still stands for "hillbilly" and there's some confusion about exactly where it is. That's where marketing, including the new production guide, comes in.

The MPDO has an extensive crew list, developed through films and commercials produced locally as well as from outside the state. The production guide, which will be sent to producers of films, commercials and industrial videos, will show people that the state is well-equipped to meet all of their filming needs.

"It's basically a catalogue consisting of paid advertising by individuals and communities that have something to offer a film producer," says Michael Keckhaver, a freelance writer who will do the typesetting through his company, LateNight Graphics.

The first section of the guide will feature available crew. "It will be kind of like the Yellow Pages - line listings coupled with display ads," says Greenbaum. The next two sections will contain "bios" of experienced actors and services offered by local production companies.

Three sections concentrating on central, northern, and southern Arkansas will list auxiliary services like catering, dry cleaning and hotels.

The production manual will be unique among the directories of other states in providing a map of the three highlighted areas of the state, along with information about weather and local support services such as fire, police and city government.

The guide will cost around $15,000 to produce, and Greenbaum says, "the film office doesn't have the money to do it. They're doing a really good job making their money go as far as it does."

Office Lacks Funds

The MPDO, a division of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, operated on just $25,000 in 1979, its first year. This fiscal year, which ends June 30, 1991, the budget is $167,000.

"In this state, it's real hard to convince legislators and John Q. Public that the creative industry is important to them," says Greenbaum. "The people in the industry and the corporations in the community are just going to have to partner with the state in marketing Arkansas."

AIDC director Dave Harrington says he would like to see more money appropriated for the MPDO and thinks that will happen as the industry gains more visibility. "I don't think it competes yet successfully with the importance of agriculture or industrial development or tourism," he says.

Gary Jones, president of Jones Productions, a leader in the state's video and film production industry, disagree. "In this day of Fed Ex and faxes, as long as (producers) get a telephone line and power, they can do their film," Jones says.

"They come to Arkansas for the resource of scenery, locations, steam trains, things like that. If they find people here who wear shoes and know what they're doing, they're pleasantly surprised and make use of them, but they don't go on location to find a studio and a film lab."

Community attitude directly affects the MPDO's attempts to attract out-of-state films. "In the last three months, two feature films were shot here," says Canerday. "Star City," a movie shot in Cotton Plant, where the economy is one of the most depressed in the state, spent about $10,000 a day, leaving $857,000 in the community.

"We got 20-40 calls a day from local people begging us to send more movies their way," Canderday says.

"The Brotherhood" spent about $100,000 a day in Little Rock and Conway, leaving an economic impact of $7 million. Yet, says Canerday, "In this area, where the economy is booming right now, the movie got continuous bad press from day one."

Ben-Ami says, "The two newspapers tried to survive by getting into an argument which we didn't have anything to do with." He claims the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette dwelled so much on the perceived negatives of allowing the Capitol to be filmed, that "they didn't see the economic aspect...."

Ben-Ami's company, Stone Group Pictures, took out full-page ads in the two entertainment industry trade papers, Variety and Hollywood Reporter, praising the state for its cooperation and singling out Secretary of State Bill McCuen, who acted quickly in bringing "The Brotherhood" to Arkansas when plans to film the Mississippi Capitol fell through.

Suzy Lilly, a film office secretary, recorded a few complaints about the film, particularly in Conway, where pyrotechnics caused some anxiety among shopkeepers.

"But in the end, everything ran smoothly," says Lilly. "I think some of the initial problems were just because they had to get everything organized."

"There were one or two incidents here and there," admits Ben-Ami. "But it happens anywhere. It's unheard of, the cooperation that was given us in Arkansas. Let's say that I was kicked out of Mississippi and wanted to come back and do it in Los Angeles. It would have taken me two months to prepare and get permits."

Arkansas Has Lost Business

In spite of its growing reputation among Hollywood moviemakers, Arkansas has lost business because of the MPDO's small operating budget, which doesn't allow for paying the expenses of movie scouts.

Former Director Christy Johnson recalls a group which had just come from scouting locations in Tennessee. The Memphis film office provided a free aerial tour of the state, paid for the scouts' lodgings, and delivered them to Arkansas in a limousine. Johnson remembers, "We picked them up in an old state car. They had to pay for their own plane, their hotel rooms and their food."

Jones believes part of the problem is the MPDO's placement in the governmental structure. "I think Dave Harrington and his folks are more used to dealing with the big company that wants millions of dollars worth of hidden subsidies. A film company comes, they're going to spend cash money, and all they want to do is to close off Main Street and run a motorcycle through somebody's yard."

The AIDC's sluggish bureaucratic environment slows the film office's efficiency, Jones says, "so that you can't act quickly and decisively and with the 24-hour-a-day service that's required when they're in the throes of casting or location scouting."

Jones believes the office would operate more effectively as an adjunct of the governor's office, where there would be greater access to decision-makers on an on-call basis.

Greenbaum says a lot of people are waiting for the new production guide to come out, and she thinks it will help maximize the efficiency of the film office. "They won't have to get on the telephone and field calls about whether there's an airport in Fort Smith or whether they have dry cleaners there - that kind of thing. The guide can do that for them."

The primary purpose of the MPDO is to attract production business from out of state. That, says Jones, is another problem. "My perspective is that they are overlooking the potential of the indigenous film industry and are trying to cater to the visiting film industry, which is very cyclical and unpredictable at best."

But the state can't afford to neglect the potential economic boon of bigtime moviemakers, and Greenbaum believes that the state's national image can be enhanced by focusing on local talent. "If we're recognized for having a bed of intellectuals, a bed of creative people here, that will elevate us throughout the country. When companies come in here from Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Austin or Washington, they leave saying, |We had no idea there were so many creative people in Arkansas,' and that's a shame."

PHOTO : LOCAL TALENT: Gary Jones (left), president of Jones Productions, a leader in the state's film and production industry, feels the Motion Picture Development Office may be overlooking the indigenous film industry.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Arkansas' movie industry
Author:Mills, Letha
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 17, 1990
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