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Columbus on Film

A rare mix of quintessential and gritty interiors and exteriors, and accidental advantages of geography, should make our city ripe for the red carpet. Creating a permanent production presence in the heart of Ohio is fundamental to attracting the caliber of projects and professionals necessary to escape the cycle of movies that blow through town, [...]
J.R. McMillan

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rare mix of quintessential and gritty interiors and exteriors, and accidental advantages of geography, should make our city ripe for the red carpet. Creating a permanent production presence in the heart of Ohio is fundamental to attracting the caliber of projects and professionals necessary to escape the cycle of movies that blow through town, but are out in 30 days or less—spending welcome dollars for sure, but not exactly adding to our capacity or credibility as a “film city.”

Atlanta has recently reinvented itself as a production powerhouse, rivaling Los Angeles and New York last year for films and television series both within its municipal borders and throughout Georgia. It was an investment years in the making that required a fair amount of faith and financing from the public and private sector to achieve. Just like the latest breakout stars on the big screen, overnight success is hardly ever so. Perseverance, pluck, and a lot of luck play into landing that one big role that suddenly changes everything.

Maybe our time as well has finally come.

“It’s surprising how many people there are from Ohio, and even from Columbus, who are in the industry and want to bring projects back here,” explained John Daugherty, executive director of the Columbus Film Commission. Facilitating production is the primary charge of any film commission, but Columbus is committed to tapping into the collaborative spirit and creative connectivity that distinguish the capital city even from nearby rivals Cleveland and Cincinnati.

“That’s what makes us unique—we bring people together. When someone calls me with an issue in the middle of production, I can usually get on the phone and have a solution in ten minutes because everyone in the industry here wants to help us succeed.”

Columbus also has the benefit of being a burgeoning locale for filmmaking, not one that has been exhaustively overshot for decades. What we may lack in iconic landmarks or familiar facades we more than make up for in backdrops that have yet to be discovered. We may not have the Statue of Liberty or the Bradbury Building, but we also don’t have the baggage that comes with them.

“There’s a lot of newness and freshness, vibrancy to the city. When we talk to producers about shooting here, there is some initial vetting to determine what they want and need,” Daugherty explained. “Then they come in and we show them the locations we have to offer. Once I get them here, it’s a pretty easy sell.”

Often described as a city of neighborhoods, the distinctive style from one to the next allows us to easily pose for another time or place. Period pieces and contemporary stories share the need for immediately transporting an audience. Communities of craftsman homes, quaint 60s suburbs, and more modern urban row houses are all within minutes of each other. From stately Victorian homes on both sides of downtown to picturesque country manors an easy drive away, there probably isn’t another city in the country with a better or broader range of residential architecture. German Village’s narrow brick homes and cobblestone streets could easily pass for Germany itself.

As evidenced by I Am Wrath, even our old barbershops look badass with the right lighting—decidedly, and ironically, unfamiliar. Though impressive locations are only part of the package.

“Because Cleveland, Cincinnati, even Pittsburgh are just a couple of hours away, we can pull crew and gear to Columbus when we need it,” he said, noting that our proximity creates the potential to tap into more robust film resources in surrounding cities, but also to lend our talent and tools as an interim step toward building our own sustainable industry. “If you’re shooting in Cleveland and have to drive to Cincinnati for a piece of equipment, that’s an all-day trip. We use our central location to market Columbus over both as a built-in benefit.”

Though there is certainly rivalry among the big three cities competing for productions, there is also common cause when it comes to tax credits. A staple for states like California, New York, and Georgia (and all of Canada), legislators hoping to create work in motion pictures and television offer various incentives for projects tied to the jobs they generate.

“I keep mentioning Cleveland and Cincinnati because they have their own film commissions that have been around longer than ours, and we all compete for the same pot of money,” Daugherty admitted. “But that’s also one of the areas where we’ve been working together, to raise that tax credit. We’ve increased it from $20 million to $40 million. However, because of the way the tax credit is structured, one production can come in a wipe that all out.”

Daugherty is advocating a restructuring of the program to ensure that doesn’t happen. He’d like to see something more in-line with what other states have done to protect their incentives and prevent huge projects from tapping the entire fund, thus cutting out smaller productions that really rely on it. Capping the maximum amount of credit per project, creating an earmark for Ohio-based productions, or pinning payouts to the number of permanent jobs created are all means used elsewhere to achieve the intended effect.

“Attracting film productions is fine, but that’s not all the tax credit was for. I think most legislators would agree it’s for cultivating and building businesses and production companies that live and breathe in the state,” he explained. “But that’s a process that takes time.”

Sometimes it’s the little things that impress. One concept created to help make Columbus more inviting for filmmakers is a simple card good for discounts on dining and transportation for visiting productions. Daugherty credits the “crew card” for recently drawing at least one producer’s attention away from Cleveland toward Columbus. Hospitality matters.

Investments aren’t always economic. Maintaining relationships with those working in the film industry with Columbus ties is also a long-term proposition, but one that Daugherty hopes can create a recurring series of projects.

“Growing relationships takes longer than landing one film. I’d like to see producers return with future films as well,” he said. “We’re also considering options for an expat incentive to lure filmmakers with local ties to return to Columbus—moving expenses perhaps, enough to give someone that last push they may need to move back.”

Closing the crew gap is a key concern for the Columbus Film Commission. It’s difficult to attract and retain talent without enough work, and challenging to attract enough work unless we already have the local talent required.

“We can still supply smaller productions in Columbus, and larger ones by borrowing crew and equipment from surrounding cities,” he noted. “But a lot of our crew are also working in the commercial industry, which sometimes limits their availability for visiting film projects.”

Much like photographers who shoot weddings on the side so they can afford to follow their passion projects with less pressure to pay the bills, commercial filmmaking is the proving ground and steady paycheck for a lot of local filmmakers.

“That’s how we increase our pool of technical talent. I’d like to see more commercial work staying in Columbus instead of leaving,” Daugherty suggested. “Can you imagine the impact on the local film industry if Nationwide, Wendy’s, and Huntington all agreed to keep just one percent of their commercial business here in Central Ohio—the number of jobs that would create and freelancers that could support?”

Columbus is increasingly ready to jump from supporting character to starring role when the right opportunity comes along. Measures of success in film and television aren’t easy to pin down, but Daugherty has distilled all of these individual efforts down to a simple strategy.

“My goal is to get four films a year and a series of some sort. Between that and more commercial projects, we could keep 300 to 400 people working year round,” he said. “After that, there’s enough experience, equipment, and momentum to bring in bigger projects. That’s how you become a film city.”

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Arts Fest Preview: See BalletMet live outdoors!

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BalletMet’s Friday night’s headline performance at 8:30 p.m. at the Arts Festival is sure to be a highlight of weekend. One of the nation’s top 20 largest professional companies, BalletMet consists of dancers hailing from across the nation and the world and boasts a premiere academy for aspiring professional dancers, one that’s been recognized as an institution of local and national stature.

Since 1978, BalletMet has brought incredible dance to theaters in Central Ohio and beyond and their commitment to bringing dance to the Columbus community, especially in underserved areas, is unparalleled.

Art of War Photo by Jen Zmuda

From in-school programs to theater field trips, scholarships and free performances, the company is dedicated to making dance accessible to all. More than 10,000 children attend the company’s Morning at the Ballet field trip performances each year. And thanks to a grant from PNC Arts Alive, BalletMet’s second company, BalletMet 2, has performed at free events at the King Arts Complex, Franklin Park Conservatory and more, throughout the 2018-19 season.

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In addition to the free performance at the Arts Festival BalletMet will perform at Dance on Dakota on Friday, May 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. in Franklinton. This performance is also free.

Dance on Dakota, co-hosted by Franklinton Arts District, is part of a weekend-long block party in Franklinton and features free food and drink and a collaborative performance with TRANSIT ARTS. The event will take place at Dakota Ave. and Town St.

Dancers Grace Anne Powers and William Newton Photo by Jen Zmuda

BalletMet’s Columbus Arts Festival performance will include a mixed repertoire of shorter pieces from its past productions and will be preceded by music from DJ Donnie M. of Damn Girl.

And if these performances capture your interest, the company recently announced its 2019-20 season, which includes ALICE, based on the later stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, Twisted 3, a collaboration with the Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus, and, of course, The Nutcracker.

More info at www.balletmet.org. For all your Arts Festival details visit www.colubmusartsfestival.org

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Arts Fest Preview: You wood hate to miss local crafter

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Woodworker and Art Makes Columbus featured artist Devon Palmer has been working with his hands since his upbringing in northeast Indiana. His mother a wood carver and his father a carpenter and cabinet maker, Palmer took a more mechanical route by obtaining his pilot’s license and attending Purdue University to pursue a career as an airplane mechanic.

But as his career transitioned from maintenance to the tech field, he yearned to work with his hands again. Originally he considered pottery, before a class he planned to attend got canceled. But a trip home the weekend before Thanksgiving led to his father introducing him to woodturning.

That was more than 15 years ago. And though he is largely self-taught, Palmer also credits local woodturners from the Central Ohio Woodturners (a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners) for taking him under their wing. In 2005, he opened his first studio just north of Downtown, and in 2007 he began teaching woodturning at Woodcraft Columbus.

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Today, Palmer does a bit of mentoring of his own. He teaches classes in blade and bowl turning, resin cast pen turning and more advanced projects like hollow vessel turning in his studio at the Idea Foundry. He is also adding a series of LGBTQ date night pen turning classes to his growing schedule of classes, shows and demonstrations.

Palmer says his work represents “family and connectedness” with work ranging from salad bowls and laser engraved pens to funerary urns and ornaments. The details in his hand-crafted tableware and home goods manage to invoke a warm sense of community, fellowship, and hospitality.

Devon Palmer works in internet technology and is also a pianist and ordained minister.

Make your own wood turned pen with Devon Palmer at the Columbus Arts Festival, June 7-9, at the Big Local Art Village located at the Festival’s Franklinton entrance. Learn more about Devon at www.columbusmakesart.com/stories/devon-palmer and get all your Arts Festival details at www.columbusartsfestival.org

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Arts Festival Preview: Dr. E uses voice to overcome adversity

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Dr. E, singer-songwriter and author Cleveland-born singer-songwriter Dr. Elaine Richardson — known by her stage name Dr. E — has used her voice to detail the incredible circumstances she encountered while overcoming great adversity. Born to a musician father and Jamaican immigrant mother, Dr. E begun tapping into her talent while singing in church, her school’s choir, and in girl groups.

Dr. E continued to sing despite the difficult path she faced. As a teen, she became a sex trafficking victim and fell into addiction. In her recovery, she pursued higher education at Cleveland State University and Michigan State University. During this time Dr. E also began performing as the frontwoman for a number of cover bands and placing her original music on various TV shows. She recorded her first album, “Elevated,” in 2010.

Dr. E’s introspective song lyrics reflect the often difficult process of healing while defending those who share her experiences or face exploitation and discrimination in other ways.

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On her sophomore album, 2017’s “Songs for the Struggle,” she gives a soulful retelling of her journey from sex trafficking survivor to university professor, Ph.D., author and advocate. Blending elements of soul, rock, funk, rhythm and blues, and jazz, Dr. E sings with an astonishing amount of hope and positivity; Though the album details the trauma and exploitation experienced by Dr. E during her teen years, her power message ultimately expresses affirmations of self-love and acceptance employed with an equally powerful and joyous voice.

Dr. E is currently a professor of literacy studies in the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She has written a number of books on African American literature as well as a memoir, “PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life.”

See Dr. E. perform at the Columbus Arts Festival, Saturday, June 8 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the Big Local Stage on Rich St.

For hours, artist listing and all Festival information go to www.columbusartsfestival.org

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