Go east: Why a Hollywood film studio is moving to Northeast Ohio to get in on the 'Action'

The Tinseltown glitz and glamour of Hollywood. The romantic late-night movie shoots of New York City. The internationally-recognized booming filmmaking industry of…Ohio?

If that last scene feels off and you’re doubting our fair state’s place on a list of bona fide filmmaking capitals, then it’s time to pause and take notice of some monumental efforts aimed at not only attracting film productions to Ohio, but also establishing a veritable film industry right here in our own backyard.

The latest cinematic breakthrough for Northeast Ohio was this month’s announcement that Good Deed Entertainment (GDE), an Oscar-nominated studio, will be opening their new headquarters in Ashland, Ohio. Along with their label Cranked Up Films, they will be offering services in development, production, financing, acquisition, and distribution at the start of 2019.

This huge decision to expand their Los Angeles-based independent studio to the less-proven filmmaking location of Ohio actually came as a no-brainer for studio execs.

“The more we crunched numbers, the more quickly it made sense,” says Nikki Stier Justice, Chief Operating Officer of GDE. “Ultimately, it’s more about opportunities than challenges for us, and the Midwest reception has already been amazing.”

GDE’s plan is to ramp up distribution efforts and increase their in-state film production. They already have two horror movies (Mad River Valley and 27 Times) slated to take advantage of local resources and begin shooting on location in Ohio. Studio execs are quick to highlight that the eastward migration offers them the ease and the access that they just can’t find in Los Angeles.

“In LA, you might spend two hours a day commuting 4.5 miles,” laughs Kristin Harris, GDE’s VP of Acquisitions and Distribution. “In Ashland, we can be even more focused on the work as we engage directly with the local economy.”

Extra credit

It’s no secret that this move is a direct connected to the massive tax credit that has been championed by the Greater Cleveland Film Commission (GCFC), a nonprofit advocacy organization. Indeed, this is exactly the result that such an incentive was intended to achieve. GCFC is working diligently to increase the incentive to 100 million dollars—a goal that bolstered by recent achievements, including GDE’s relocation to Ohio.

“The fact that a company is moving from LA to Ohio speaks volumes to anyone in the filmmaking world smart enough to listen,” says Ivan Schwarz, President and CEO of GCFC. “This will not only retain talent here in Cleveland, but also attract people from the outside who want to be part of an industry that just doesn’t exist in Ohio. Yet.”

The key word to all of these efforts is that all-encompassing moniker of “industry.” A tax credit may attract an isolated big-budget film production (“Avengers, assemble!”) or motivate a lone film company to set up shop locally. But without a comprehensive filmmaking infrastructure, insiders say that incentives can only go so far to be a sustainable economic boon to the area.

“You can woo a movie here, everyone can see Matthew McConaughey, and it’s all very exciting,” observes Schwarz. “But at some point, Matthew, the production team, and everyone working on the film will leave. That shoot alone won’t make us a global center for filmmaking excellence.”

To take steps towards establishing Ohio as a veritable hub of filmmaking industry, both GDE and GCFC outline the need to develop the availability of core moviemaking assets, including people (gaffers to keygrips), services (electrical to postproduction editing), and amenities (editing bays to state-of-the-art sound stages). (We’re starting to see it gradually with the introduction of businesses like Cleveland Prop Shop.)

They also enthusiastically extol the benefits of working with local film students to develop and retain future generations of filmmaking talent.

“Companies like Good Deed will have the opportunity to work with students at the School of Film & Media Arts at Cleveland State University,” says Schwarz. “These students won’t have to leave the state to pursue their moviemaking dreams. This will help create an environment where they get to stay here, enjoy the cost of living, and contribute to the growth of the city.”

Finding that spark

The hope is that Good Deed’s move to Ohio will inspire even more filmmakers to move to Cleveland. Though daunting, the path from Golden State to Buckeye State can both be done and done well. Just ask local filmmaker Tyler Davidson.

After moving to Los Angeles to produce his first film, The Year That Trembled, in 2002, he quietly packed up after five years in California to move back to his childhood homeland of Northeast Ohio in 2007. Since being back in Ohio, he and his production company Low Spark Films have produced a stellar slate of films—from 2011’s award-winning thriller Take Shelter to 2016’s Sundance Festival darling The Land to his latest offering Galveston. The latter was released only a few days ago receiving both critical fanfare and the #1 ranking on iTunes as the top-downloaded independent film in the world this week.

Even with this success, Davidson would love to be able to focus more of his efforts on Ohio, but echoes that previously expressed need for more infrastructure.

“We need a long-term viable filmmaking environment to get more done here,” says Davidson. “I would love to spend all my money on Ohio, but we’re just not there yet as a stable film industry."

Still, Davidson stresses that the one asset Ohio sports that other filmmaking locales can’t beat is an environment unlike any other throughout the world. He insists that any company that pursues production here will immediately see the value, both in experience and bottom line.

“The locations are so rich, diverse, and inexpensive,” says Davidson. “But you can’t beat the people here. No one is jaded by the industry where moviemaking can be seen as an inconvenience. Here, it is seen as something special and fun, which truly makes a difference for producers. Now we just need to get everyone in the industry to see that.”

Join Greater Cleveland Film Commission on Saturday, November 10, for its annual "Behind the Camera" fundraiser highlighting the beloved HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers"—learn more here, and check out the preview video below: 

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