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Columbusland: Industry Outlier

Ohio Film Group, on building Creative capital at home. As counterintuitive as it sounds, the greatest challenge any city has breaking into the film business isn’t film anymore—it’s bandwidth. Motion pictures, as they’re less commonly called these days, are no longer a succession of still images deceiving the eyes at 24 frames per second. They’re [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Ohio Film Group, on building Creative capital at home.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, the greatest challenge any city has breaking into the film business isn’t film anymore—it’s bandwidth.

Motion pictures, as they’re less commonly called these days, are no longer a succession of still images deceiving the eyes at 24 frames per second. They’re a stream of encrypted elections protected like state secrets. The online release of an early edit of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (minus most visual effects) not only hurt the theatrical release, but was a warning shot felt throughout the industry. Hugh Jackman’s cigar-chomping alter ego may be bulletproof, but his box office appeal remains very mortal in the age of file sharing. Television isn’t immune either. A couple of years earlier, one of the best pilots never to make it into production was Global Frequency. Based on the comic book series of the same name, Warner Brothers execs were so perturbed by its leak through then-new torrenting technology, they put a swift end to the show before it even started.

That’s why Ohio Film Group is very particular about their post-production. Their local studios offer unmatched speed and security through their own secret internet of sorts, easily integrating studio quality capabilities into productions often thousands of miles away—all in an instant.

“We’re a hub on Sohonet, which is a private internet media-based company that allows us to move dense, heavy data from our facility all over the world securely and quickly,” explained Leonard Hartman, president of Ohio Film Group. “We can move a feature length film—hundreds of terabytes—to New York, L.A., or Paris as fast as walking it across the hall.”

Ohio State football fans may recognize that name. The former offensive lineman turned educator and coach launched his second act in Los Angeles at the American Film Institute, eventually establishing himself as a screenwriter and producer. But after starting a family, the practical challenges of life in L.A. and frequent trips back to Ohio to visit extended family made moving back here and occasionally flying there a better option. It’s a long commute, but one that keeps getting shorter thanks to technology that helps him to be there, even when he’s not.

“It allows us to stay connected to a community of creatives in a way they trust. It’s best in class, and we’re part of the network,” Hartman explained. “It allows us to stay connected with decision-makers in New York and L.A. in a way we couldn’t even a few years ago. It makes us relevant.”

Ohio Film Group’s start was as cinematic as Field of Dreams. It may have seemed like a crazy idea to build a production facility in Ohio, especially to studio executives who probably presume Columbus isn’t far from that fabled cornfield. “Build it, and they will come” wasn’t their strategy, but that’s exactly what happened. Projects that easily, if not surely, would have gone elsewhere landed here—including Aftermath, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The speed and security of Ohio Film Group’s “big pipe” made a big difference in the decision to shoot here and stay here.

“We had 20 producers watching the dailies all over the world, watching what was happening here—giving notes, giving feedback—involved in the process from afar,” recalled Hartman. “They could watch the film being made and interact with the team on the ground. That’s just how it’s done now. If you can’t do that, you’re not part of the game.”

That’s not hype or hyperbole. Hollywood has quickly become a shell of its former self, much like the fake city streets and storefront facades that are all plywood and paint, but empty inside. Even those have become ghost towns as actual production has all but left California for tax credits elsewhere. It’s a gold rush in reverse.

“I was at Paramount not too long ago working on a film talking to one of the producers there who said they had a film shooting on the lot for the first time in five years,” noted Hartman. “They’d had a couple TV shows, but they hadn’t shot a movie on the backlot at Paramount for five years? That’s telling. Tax credits are entry-level. If you don’t have them, you’re not in the business. Canada started it years ago, and Georgia has figured it out for sure. Ohio has them, but the way they are structured could use some work.”

The trick with tax credits for film projects is that they are intended to create jobs, but often those jobs don’t last. They tend to be turn-and-burn positions instead of the ongoing ground-level gigs that are the foundation of a persistent film industry.

“If you’re looking at how you develop an entertainment community, it has to be more than productions that fly in for the tax credits, then fly back out. The real advantage is when those productions stay here, when people live here—buy houses, buy cars, buy groceries,” he explained. “Building facilities is how that happens. That’s a much better return on investment for Ohio taxpayers.”

That’s also why would-be film cities set their sights on television instead of just films. Having a TV series creates jobs that stick around long after the blockbusters close up shop. It may not seem as sexy, but it’s steady work.

“Hollywood isn’t just directors and actors. It’s the people who do all of the other stuff. It’s the grips and the carpenters, the set and costume designers—the worker bees. The only way you entice those people to uproot their families and move to Columbus is to have jobs that don’t go away in 30 days,” noted Hartman. “That’s what Atlanta has done; that’s what Vancouver has done—and there are people leaving L.A. everyday because there’s more work in cities that have that permanent creative class.”

Sadly, Columbus is sort of its own secret, and that’s still a challenge. Whether it’s our modest demeanor or Midwestern work ethic, we don’t brag about ourselves often enough. That’s the trouble with branding. You brand yourself, or someone else will.

“When I talk to people in the industry who have never been to Columbus, they don’t get it. They worry about whether they’ll be able to find anywhere to eat, or cows walking down the street. But if we can get them to come here, then they get it,” he explained. “When you show them the city, they’re surprised. They see the development in and around downtown, how we’re a vibrant city, a vital city. They start to see us like they used to see Portland or Austin just a few years ago. We’ve had clients in from Toronto who remark how much Columbus actually reminds them of Toronto.”

That’s why Ohio Film Group is recruiting technical talent from both coasts and abroad back to Columbus from heavy-hitters like Disney, Rhythm and Hues, and Industrial Light & Magic.

“One thing that makes Ohio more attractive is our cost of living is at least 30 percent less than New York, L.A., or even Atlanta. Every day I get a call from someone in one of those markets who says they’d love to come back to Columbus because of the quality of life and the bang they get for their dollar is so much better,” he revealed. “If we’re serious about the creative class and supporting a local film industry, it’s going to take creative thinking. You can buy all of this—the equipment, the fiber runs, all of it—but it still comes down to people. We’re always looking for the right projects, but we’re also looking for the right people.”

For more about the OFG’s team and their projects, visit ofgpost.com.

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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.

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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.

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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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Arts Fest Preview: Cousin Simple to wow crowd with energy, passion

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As a young up-and-coming band, Cousin Simple is excited to play at this year’s Columbus Art’s Festival. In their two years as a band, they have already done a lot of really cool things, such as making a single with L.A. multi-platinum music producer David Kershenbaum, playing at Vans Warped Tour at Blossom Music Center, and selling out shows at the A&R Bar, the Basement and The Big Room Bar. But there is much more they want to accomplish including recording more music, making a music video and playing more shows in and out of Columbus.

The band members are all Columbus born and raised. Four members currently attend The Ohio State University, while their drummer Joel is finishing up his junior year at New Albany high School. Cousin Simple brings an energy and passion to the stage and gives everything they have to their performances, regardless of the crowd size. They just released a new single in February called Honeybee, available on iTunes and Spotify and have a single set to release May 10 titled “Star Destroyers.”

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Columbus is a great city for musicians. Whether you’re in the indie, rock, or hip hop scene, there are other musicians and music industry people willing to help you out. Columbus also takes a great sense of pride in its “local gems.” People love to see musicians who are doing well in their hometown and are willing to support them in many ways.

There are so many organizations that have taken this to heart and are helping bands get great opportunities. CD102.5, WCBE 90.5, PromoWest Productions and the Columbus Music Commission have helped Cousin Simple get airtime, shows and support. When it comes to music cities, Columbus may not be the first place that comes to mind, but there are so many bands and musicians doing exciting things it’s making the future bright for them and the Columbus music scene.

But Cousin Simple recognizes that none of this would be possible without the support of their family, friends and FANS that come to each and every show. They are humbled and motivated by their audiences who energize them to make every performance an experience their fans won’t forget. 

Cousin Simple will perform on the Big Local Music Stage on Rich Street on Friday night, June 7 at 7:45 p.m.

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