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New Cleveland Film Commission President Shoots For More Business

A fan gets an autograph during the 2006 production of "Spiderman 3" in downtown Cleveland  [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

The script for Evan Miller’s 15-year Hollywood career started in a talent agency mailroom. 

“It was filling envelopes with resumes and headshots, and then a lot of filling in,” Miller said.  “It was great, because it exposed me to voiceovers, to commercials, to new theatrical work.  I really got to see the business as a whole and figured out pretty early on that my passion was in TV and film and representing those actors.”

The Northeast Ohio native got the opportunity to bring his entertainment business skills back home when Ivan Schwarz announced that he was stepping down as president of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission. Over the course of 13 years, Schwarz brought a wide range of movie projects to town, from blockbuster hits like “The Avengers” to the smaller, coming-of-age comedy “The Kings of Summer.” Schwarz also helped secure a state tax credit to promote new productions, and he was a key figure in establishing Ohio’s first film school at Cleveland State University.

Evan Miller was born and raised in Orange [Falls Communications]

Miller thinks the film commission’s work shows the movie-making playing field is a little more level these days.

“In a lot of businesses it’s ‘follow the money,’” he said, noting that even a big studio like Disney would look to save money by having a city like Cleveland double for New York. “That’s the exciting thing. L.A. obviously is a little nervous, because they’ve seen a lot of their production leave, and they’re trying to figure out ways to bring it back.  And, obviously they have the infrastructure. They will always be number one.  But, there’s no reason, especially with the financial incentives the state has put into place, there’s no reason for productions not to consider Cleveland on the same footing.”

A fake subway entrance at E. Ninth and Euclid turned Cleveland into New York for the 2006 "Spiderman 3" shoot.  [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

The $40-million Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit is adding touring theatrical productions to the state’s incentive package. Miller thinks theater fits right in with the tax credit’s mission to bring entertainment production to Ohio. 

“We don’t want to be in a position where we’re turning down these opportunities,” he said. “We want as many producers in theater, TV, film, reality, scripted, unscripted – we want them here. We want the ability to say yes.”

Miller acknowledges that the tax credit program has long been controversial. Critics question its effectiveness and charge that such incentives put Ohio in a race-to-the-bottom competition with other states to offer deals to high-profile productions.  Miller thinks that comes from a misunderstanding of how the tax credit works.

“I think a lot of people see this, they see $40 million, and they think the state is cutting a check to a producer and saying: ‘Here’s $40 million, go make your movie,’” he said. “It’s not that. We need to look at this as more of a rebate. I’m just throwing numbers out, but personally I think it’s better to have 75% of a significant amount of money than 100% of nothing.”

Before leaving his post at the film commission, Schwarz recently mounted a lobbying campaign to save the film tax credit from the state budget chopping block. When Miller takes over the job next month, he says he plans to focus on expanding the credit to $100 million in an effort to secure Ohio’s reputation as a place to make movies.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.