Local filmmakers hope to revitalize Iowa Film Industry

BY DORA GROTE | APRIL 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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John Watkins cringed as he doubled over in pain. The University of Iowa theater graduate student performed a scene The Farm, a movie that will be filmed in Iowa later this spring.

Local filmmakers said the project could be the first step in boosting the Iowa film industry.

"Filmmaking creates jobs and helps train Iowans in the industry, involves talented and young professionals who may otherwise leave the state, stimulates the economy with cash flow to area businesses, and helps bring positive global visibility to Iowa," said Kimberly Busbee, the casting director and producer for The Farm.

Former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver shut down the Iowa Film Office in 2009 after Iowa Film Tax Incentive recipients misused funds from $32 million in tax credits, said Wendol Jarvis, who founded the Iowa Film Office in 1984.

"It was a major scandal that created a big problem, not just for Iowa but for the whole United States film industry," Jarvis said. "Iowa is losing out considerably on film production."

The Iowa Film Office — located in Des Moines — was a centralized location at which filmmaking professionals could go to seek help finding actors and scoping out locations to shoot.

Jarvis said the Iowa film industry generated approximately $120 million when he managed the office from 1984 to late 2002.

The Farm is part of Project Cornlight — founded by UI alumna and Hollywood actor Tanna Frederick — meant to help revitalize the Iowa film industry by producing a series of films with primarily Iowan casts and crews, Busbee said. The Farm is the project's first film.

"There has been a significant brain and youth drain," Busbee said. "Any Iowans who were working in film and graduates pursuing film as a career have been forced to move elsewhere."

The University of Iowa had 14 students enrolled in film and video production in the fall of 2011 and 29 in film studies, according to the UI Office of the Registrar.

Busbee said businesses in Iowa — hotels, restaurants, bars, and gas stations — have lost a substantial amount of revenue because of fewer people coming to Iowa to make films.

Dave Danielson, the program director of the Iowa Motion Picture Association, said Iowa's hotels lost roughly 15,000 nights booked for business in 2009. The Quad City Film Coalition estimated a $3 million positive impact between Jan. 1, 2007, and September 2009.

"It allowed Iowa to compete nationally for those generic stories that could be shot anywhere and didn't need a Manhattan skyline or an ocean beach," Danielson said. "Once it was suspended, producers had to go where they could get the best deal."

The Farm is about a single mother — played by Frederick — who abandons her son and returns back home when her grandfather becomes ill and can no longer tend to his farm.

Jarvis said several bills to re-establish the Iowa film office are in the Iowa Legislature.

Busbee said the new film and Project Cornlight will revitalize Iowa in more than one way.

"It's more than just a film," she said. "It's a fresh start."

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