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Made in Missouri label may be harder to get on movies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 24, 3011 - Remember the buzz when George Clooney was in St. Louis to shoot a movie? And remember the buzz when that movie, "Up in the Air," was nominated for major film awards? Well, all that good feeling may be a little harder to get, now that Gov. Jay Nixon has closed down the Missouri Film Commission.

For St. Louis or any other part of the state, for that matter, attracting film companies and getting a movie shot can be complicated. "You need to shoot the location; you need someone to do lighting. A film office can answer a question such as, 'Who do you call to find this location?'" said Gary Hansen, business rep for Missouri's IATSE local 493.

While Nixon has ordered the designated film office closed, the state still has tax credits for film companies. But the $4.5 million available annually is a fairly small amount.

Cliff Froehlich, executive director of Cinema St. Louis, says that the last major film proposal, Paramount's "Fun Size," applied for a $4.5 million tax credit. The Department of Economic Development rejected that, offering  only $1 million and the project went to Ohio.

Froehlich says that closing the office can hurt the local arts community in different ways.

"A lot of people think that it doesn't make any sense. Gov. Nixon ended up eliminating a two-person operation," said Froehlich.

Hansen says, "Legislators said that the courting of films is a big city thing. But we filmed 'Winter's Bone' in a rural area, Forsyth, Mo."

According to Hansen, the state started attracting a few low-budget ($1 million-$3 million) science-fiction films. After those productions were successful, bigger Hollywood studios came knocking on the film commission's door.

"We showed the state house that we went from doing sci-fi films to George Clooney starring in 'Up in the Air.' Legislators should be able to see that," said Hansen.

Hansen and Froehlich were both surprised that even though "Winter's Bone" and "Up in the Air" received Academy Award nominations, it did not affect Nixon's decision.

Hansen admits that incentives can be complicated and controversial with legislators. With tax credits, many movie companies wind up selling them back to other Missouri-based businesses at a cheaper rate. But attempts to eliminate the tax credit have so far failed.

"There are economic studies on both sides of the aisle. Some say that you can gain business; some studies suggest that you're giving away money without getting anything back," said Froehlich.

Froehlich says that there will be quite a bit of chaos, because the economic development office, where movie requests will now go, may not be equipped to handle the entertainment industry.

"Chances are a lot of stuff for films isn't going to happen. There's going to be frustration, and a lot of film companies are going to find other places to film," said Froehlich.

Hansen thinks the economic recession is making the Missouri legislature shortsighted. His union represents people who work in the film industry of Missouri, and he says closing the office can mean the loss of more than just two state jobs.

"It's like burning blankets to stay warm," said Hansen.

Froehlich agrees that the economic benefit of filming large productions can be big as crews are willing to spend money on hotels and other services.

Cinema St. Louis has grown in recent years, according to Froehlich. "We present the films, we don't make them. We have several different festivals; and this year is the 20th anniversary of St. Louis International Film Festival (Nov. 10-20)."

Froehlich thinks the film commission had an important role in communicating between film productions and local areas, such as St. Louis. Major film such as "White Palace," "Up in the Air" and "Winter's Bone" all had St. Louis connections. He's also excited about the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase (Aug. 13-18) featuring the work of local directors, actors and producers.

The nonprofit organization wants to educate community members on the importance of film-making in Missouri. It's not just about making money, Froehlich said, "We have educational impacts on the city. For example, the Pulitzer Foundation offered a free screening event for local schools, which displayed 14 local films at no cost."

Whether more of those films will be made in Missouri is, well, up in the air.

Ray Carter, a student at Purdue University, is a Beacon intern.