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Cleveland Movie Industry Blooming

Tuesday, October 22, 2002 at 2:38 PM

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Northeast Ohio is in the spotlight like never before. Several movies are on the big screen, or will be there soon. The shooting of a TV drama series is also in the works. Local showbiz types say building our film industry means millions of Hollywood dollars for local businesses and additional jobs. The challenge is keeping the momentum going. ideastream's Mike West has this report on the competition for attracting the film-making to Cleveland.

Mike West: This is a clip from the movie Welcome to Collinwood. It was shot in Cleveland and is now playing in theaters.

(sound clip)

In the past year, five feature films have used Northeast Ohio as a backdrop to tell their story. It’s good news for the local economy and civic pride. But is it just a flash in the pan, or the foundation for a future in the limelight? Chris Carmody believes it is. Carmody, the president of Greater Cleveland’s Film Commission says in the past 12 months, the industry has spent $13 million in Cleveland, and he says that figure will grow.

Chris Carmody: There are essentially three legs to the stool of creating a really good environment for film production. The first is to have a diverse group of architectural and geographic locations. So for Cleveland, we have an advantage in that we have a whole group of period architecture buildings from the late 19th to the 20th centuries you don’t find on the west coast.

MW: Carmody says the other “legs of the stool” are a community that welcomes and understands how the film business works, the third is a skilled work force.

James Todd: I’m what they call the stand-by painter, and on this project they called it “on-set” painter.

MW: James Todd has worked on several local productions including the Welcome to Collinwood set.

JT: And what my job was, as if the Director of Photography looks through the camera and doesn’t like we he sees and it needs to be changed, it needs to be changed now because sometimes it’s $125,000 an hour to keep the whole crew here.

MW: The set was created in a building that’s also the home of the Pickwick and Frolic Comedy Club in downtown Cleveland. It’s located on a downtown side street where it provides a scene of storefronts and 1880’s architecture. Todd’s work on the set led to an additional job of doing custom painting on the rehabilitated building, a work that’s still in progress.

JT: So what you see is the remainders of the set and now there’s plywood against the walls, saws on the table - sawdust everywhere.

MW: This is exactly the kind of job film industry supporters love to see created. John Ryan is the executive secretary of the Cleveland AFL/CIO and the chairman of the Film Commission Board.

John Ryan: Filming movies and commercials in Cleveland brings in good family supporting jobs in the Greater Cleveland area, helps to add to the tax base and makes Cleveland what many people what it to be is cool, makes Cleveland a place that people see on the big screen as fun place and a place we all know and hopefully people what to visit and what to come back.

MW: Northeast Ohio wants new industries. And Ryan says that as long as the city is working toward that goal, Hollywood projects should be a priority. Since 1998, the industry has attracted $22 million. Much of that has gone into the pockets of everyone from local truck drivers to hair and make-up artists to stage hands and electricians. Ryan says it’s a plus for workers, because the entertainment industry doesn’t balk at paying union scale wages.

JR: One of the reasons why Cleveland is viewed as good place to come for filming is because of the relationships we have with the unions whether it’s AFTRA, it’s the stagehands, it’s the various building trade unions. People have the skills and the expertise and they want to be doing this work. The pay level is basically the same throughout the country and so were guaranteed that these will be family supporting jobs when they come to Cleveland.

MW: But does northeast Ohio really have what it takes to be a film mecca? The city has been fortunate because several Clevelanders have made it big in Hollywood, and decided to come back here for film projects. However, Chris Carmody of the Film Commission insists that even without those connections, the area can stand on it’s own as a good place to shoot film. But the competition is tough. Other cities also want the same business and are way ahead. For example, Pittsburgh and Baltimore already average between $35 and $45 million a year, compared to Cleveland’s $13 million.

CC: I think to move to the next stage, need to consider things like building sound stages here which would bring more work and especially more of the construction side of the work to Cleveland and a few more infrastructure elements would help a lot.

MW: Carmody thinks northeast Ohio would also draw more production if local and state governments offered to refund some of the taxes the cast and crew pay while working in the area. A similar program already exists in Canada. He also says more production facilities need to be created to handle additional digital editing and animation jobs. To reach that goal, the commission is working with schools and production companies to create training programs and partnerships. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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