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Local filmmakers get funding, despite spending scandal

BY KATIE STINSON | OCTOBER 01, 2009 7:20 AM

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Two local filmmakers say they’re lucky to have received state funding for their zombie-horror film, allowing production to continue while other projects in the state have been suspended.

“In your face, tax incentive,” said director Jason Bolinger, responding to Gov. Chet Culver’s decision to halt funding to the Iowa film industry in wake of a spending scandal.

Bolinger, with fellow director Mike Saunders, began production Wednesday in West Branch for Collapse, a zombie-farming film.

The Iowa Film Office approved funding — in the form of reimbursements — for the movie on Sept. 18, three days before Culver fired the film office’s manager, UI alumnus Thomas Wheeler.

The same day, Culver asked for an investigation into the fraudulent findings by the state’s attorney general, auditor and Department of Revenue.

“Boom! Suddenly all of this happened,” Bolinger said. “It was crazy.”

Culver froze funding after discovering the program was poorly managed and filmmakers were purchasing luxury vehicles, iPods, and feather beds on the state’s dime.

Film projects have begun to feel the whiplash of the state’s decision to postpone approving more funds. Only 22 of the 157 projects that have applied for credit were granted reimbursements, according to the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

“If our timing hadn’t been perfect, our project would have been killed on the spot,” Bolinger said.



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He understood why the state is taking drastic measures but said many projects will come to an end.
And funding issues affect the state, too.

“It really gives the state of Iowa a bad reputation,” said Collapse producer Bruce Heppner-Elgin. “Culver is just trying to step up on his white horse and make the state look like it is responding to the frauds.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said the state is keeping the Iowa film industry’s concerns in mind.

“We understand the difficulties suspension of the program poses for companies doing business in Iowa, and we will weigh that carefully case by case as state officials determine how best to proceed,” he said in a statement released last week.

The suspension still isn’t very comforting for Iowa Film Production Services, the company behind Collapse. Since the incentives began, the Iowa film market has drawn many young, aspiring filmmakers.

“A lot of filmmakers have gone off to Hollywood and have come back to spend their project money in Iowa,” Saunders said.

State officials have been trying to keep in and to attract young people to the state.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects Iowa’s 18- to 24-year-old population will decrease by 13.8 percent from 2000 to 2025, the second largest decrease in the nation.

The growing industry is what drew UI alumna Kristina Swanson, unit production manager for Collapse, back to the state. She made the decision to return after gaining experience in Chicago and Los Angeles.

“Saying I was from Iowa got my foot in the door for a lot of different projects,” she said. “Companies hired me because of my Iowa work ethic.”

But after the recent fiasco, Swanson said, film companies might start turning to “states with less drama.”

“We are back to square one,” she said. “The infrastructure we have built for other film companies is gone. The trust is gone.”

For now, the Collapse team members said they’re going to focus on the film.

“We have a strong passion for this project,” Saunders said. “We have gone beyond the typical zombie-film expectation.”

Saunders and Bolinger said they’re optimistic Collapse will be well-rated, and they hope a major film-distribution company will pick it up.

“We really hope to get some national interest so we can continue, with or without the tax incentive,” Swanson said. “We are not the average film company. Our company [developed] from Iowa values.”


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