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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 & Culture

How Bazaar: Popup arts fest shines a light on local creatives

Mike Thomas

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While cultivating a newfound sense of personal fulfillment might be as simple as picking up a paint brush or instrument, earning a living through your art is a more complicated prospect. As longtime friends, collaborators, and Columbus art-scene hustlers Dustin Bennett and Zak Biggard will tell you, making it as an artist sometimes comes down to who you know.

Having met years ago as coworkers at a local printmaking shop, Bennett and Biggard have gone on to individual success with their own creative design firms. For Bennett, part of this work entails curating the art displayed at Clintonville’s Global Gallery, a cafe and art space that is committed to promoting fair trade handcrafted products from around the world.

When an exhibition Bennett was planning for the space fell through, he reached out to Biggard to fill the vacancy with his work. The resulting show was a hit, with Biggard selling several pieces in one of Global Gallery’s most successful exhibitions to date.

Biggard and Bennett outside of Global Gallery (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

His reputation with the venue established, Biggard approached Amy Palmer, Global Gallery’s manager, with an idea for a large-scale show. She gave him the thumbs up, and Biggard again partnered with Bennett to help bring his vision to light. The result is a show spanning three weekends in the month of August that the duo have dubbed Bazaar Ritual.

“The idea was a bazaar, this sort of Middle-Eastern marketplace where you walk in and it’s just a feast for the senses,” says Biggard. “All of these different sights, sounds, smells—everything packed together.”

As mutually beneficial as their collaborations had been, the Bennett and Biggard hope to open the doors of opportunity wide to other artists. Through this new exhibition/festival, the two aim to shed a light on creators who may not know how to navigate the sometimes complicated process of getting work into a conventional art show.

“Most of these people have never been involved in the gallery scene or never been able to show their work off,” Biggard explains. “They are just so excited to be a part of something, and the stuff I’ve been seeing from people, I just can't wait to have everything together in one place.”

When the exhibitors do come together for the popup-style event on August 3rd, 17th, and 31st, they will bring with them works across a diverse range of media.

“We’ve got people who make jewelry, clothing, glass blowers, painters and performance artists,” says Biggard. “It’s really the diversity of the work that’s the theme.”

As diverse as the work on display in the show will be, the exhibitors themselves hail from various disparate walks of life—everyone from nurses to dog walkers, printmakers to salespeople, as Bennett explains. In addition to the work shown during the recurring weekend events, each artist in Bazaar Ritual will have the opportunity to display one piece in Global Gallery throughout the month of August. Artists will keep 100% of the proceeds sold throughout the month and during the weekend events.

https://www.instagram.com/p/By0yi8xhuPE/

Along with providing a platform, the Bennett and Biggard hope that Bazaar Ritual will serve as a networking hub where creatives can meet and form collaborations of their own. Response from artists interested in taking part has already been building organically, with those involved telling their friends, those friends bringing more friends, and so on.

In addition to the prospect of hanging out with artists and perusing the exhibitions, the organizers of Bazaar Ritual have a number of surprises in store for attendees. Food trucks will be on hand, as well as live local music on Global Gallery’s spacious patio.

Though Bennett and Bigard are working diligently to bring this fledgling event to fruition, the two seem calm in the lead up to the show. Their artist-first approach lends a communal feel to the event, with creatives joining forces to put on an organized yet laid-back experience that shirks the corporate mold of some traditional gallery settings.

“We’re trying to do what art is meant to do and bring people together,” says Bennett. “We’re trying to bring together as many friends and strangers as we can—motleys and misfits alike.”

Global Gallery is located at 3535 N High St, in Clintonville. You can visit Bazaar Ritual there from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM on the 3rd, the 17th, and the 31st of August. For more information, check out @bazaarritual on Instagram.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Kate Morgan, 2D mixed media artist

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Kate Morgan began developing her ghostly, layered two-dimensional portraits after going back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She already had some background in visual arts through her work in fashion and commercial photography, so the transition to drawing and painting was organic.

Morgan’s textured collages are inspired by folklore, mythology and a variety of artistic periods — especially Byzantine art. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival Emerging Artist alum and 2019 exhibiting artist welcomes a wide array of complex themes into her pieces — including symbolic, cultural, historical and spiritual themes — while utilizing layers of vintage paper and original drawings to create visual depth and a sense of mystery.

Her pieces are purposely vague, leaning toward more minimalistic ideas to allow for wider interpretation by audiences. Largely her art depicts the female form, with as many layers and stories to tell as that of every human being. This is done with an eclectic assortment of materials — including sheet music, German Biblical pages, newspaper and maps — to add detail in both a topical and textural sense.

And yet, Morgan still continues to look for a challenge. From venturing away from her familiar blue hues to exploring different mediums like ceramics, her work knows no creative limits.

Morgan has exhibited at the Columbus Arts Festival nearly every year since 2011. She has gone on to win two jurors’ choice awards in the 2D category at the Columbus Arts Festival, as well as sell and have work juried at other major festivals across the country. In Columbus, her work can be seen as part of the Columbus Makes Art and Donatos Pizza collaborative mural “Every Piece Is Important” at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Morgan has a BFA from CCAD and currently works out of her Franklinton studio in Columbus. Experience this stunning work first hand when you visit her at booth M572 on the Main Street Bridge during the Columbus Arts Festival from June 7-9 at the downtown riverfront.

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Arts & Culture

Be Square: Changes coming to arts community at 400 W Rich

Mike Thomas

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If you haven't visited the thriving arts community at 400 West Rich street in awhile, you might be surprised to see how much things have changed. Now, the minds behind the city's hub for the arts are changing things up to better reflect the area's evolution.

400 Square is the new collective moniker for the array of concepts that currently occupy the buildings on the 400 block of Rich street in Franklinton. The rebrand seeks to unify the community of artistic innovators who call the area developed by Urban Smart Growth their creative home.

Promo art for 400 Square by Anthony Damico

Spaces encompassed in the rebrand include Strongwater, The Vanderelli Room, and Chromedge Studios, and of course, the studios at 400 W. Rich. While the name may be changing, the group remains committed to providing and sustaining a thriving hub for creatives through education, resources, and entertainment opportunities in the area.

With the launch of 400 Square, Urban Smart Growth Director of Operations Seth Stout has led his team to develop new offerings for each of the growing spaces. Food and Beverage Director Lauren Conrath and Events Director Molly Blundred have taken the lead with changes to the Strongwater brand, while Community Director Stephanie McGlone and Art Director AJ Vanderelli are facilitating programming for all ages and abilities on the artist side.

Through all of the changes on the way, the staff at 400 Square are committed to bringing the public the same high quality of workshops, events, exhibitions, and more that have always been part of their unique creative community.

Stay tuned for more info—the new 400 Square officially rolls out during the weekend of Columbus Arts Fest 2019, June 7-9.

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