By Mark R. Smith
[top] The Killer Inside Me, starring Casey Affleck and Jessica Alba, filmed in the Masonic Temple Theatre, Guthrie,
[bottom left] White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, New Mexico. Photo: New Mexico Film Office
[bottom right] Northern Nevada's road to Metropolis.
The swath of the United States that comprises Oklahoma, Texas and the great Southwest comprises big states, big vistas and big potential for feature film, television and commercial producers. But with budgets facing harsh scrutiny states noted for generous production incentives fight to hang onto them, those with modest incentives pitch for increases and those currently without packages make the case that production contributes to a healthy bottom line.
Bison in the Tall Grass Prairie in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Hopes State Will Okay Incentive Boost
As is the case in some other states, Oklahoma has a new governor, Mary Fallin, who is in the midst of her first legislative session. That could mean some alteration to the state's film incentive package, but Jill Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Film & Music Office is taking a proactive approach regardless.
Today, Oklahoma offers filmmakers a 35- to 37-percent cash rebate; that extra two percent is available for producers who spend $20,000 on music production in the state.
The program (which was created, in part, by Fallin when she was lieutenant governor a decade ago) is capped at $5 million; Simpson and company "are asking for an additional $5 million, for a total of $10 million. If we don't get that, we may run out of money in the middle of the fiscal year," which begins on July 1, she says. "Any producer that is prequalified for Oklahoma rebate money can rest assured that whatever amount we discuss will remain in the fund for their project."
Given the current low cap, Simpson says the state's niche is independent films that shoot for $20 million or less. During the past year, the marquee film was an untitled Terrence Malick project featuring Academy Award-winners Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem, and Rachel McAdam that wrapped in November after shooting in Bartlesville and Pawhuska. Well-known names also were attached to Bringing Up Bobby, which marked the directorial debut of former Bond girl and X-Men star Famke Janssen and starred Mila Jovovich, Marcia Cross and Bill Pullman. It shot in Oklahoma City, Edmond and Guthrie.
The Killer Inside Me (starring Casey Affleck, in suit) filmed on Park Avenue, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
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"What made it interesting is that we can all hear, and we had to post the project. To do so, we needed the help of an interpreter to keep everything in sync. Then, we used a teleprompter for the talent to read as they signed," he explains.
The video was shot with a Sony XDCAM recording to SXS media, again without audio or even closed captioning, "as we normally would use for any project [for] this agency," Harper says. Graphics were added with Adobe After Effects. "It was a unique project and we have since received inquiries from other state rehabilitation agencies about how we did it."
Also on the roster were Heaven's Rain, directed by Paul Brown and headlined by Taryn Manning and Mike Vogel, and two features by Tulsa's faith-based Trost Moving Pictures, A Christmas Snow and The Lamp. Director Nick Cassavettes is slated to shoot Yellow in Oklahoma City, Norman and Pauls Valley.
Simpson says the state offers "very diverse backgrounds. We have more eco-regions than any other state, with sand dunes, prairies, tall grass preserves, small mountain ranges and wetlands. Our other key selling point is our film-friendly environments. Oklahoma's not a place that has so much production that the locals are jaded. They still love to see movies shooting here."
Heaven's Rain, with Brooks Douglas and Nicholas Braico, shot in Oklahoma.
She notes that downtown Oklahoma City and Tulsa can double for much larger western towns, like Dallas and Fort Worth, especially in the 1950s, and Tulsa "is third to only New York City and Miami in the amount of Art Deco architecture."
The state also is well off in the stage category. Tulsa offers two 10,000-square-foot facilities, Little Mountain Productions and University Broadcasting, the latter on campus at Oral Roberts University. Another stage of similar size, RetroSpec Film, is just outside Tulsa in Broken Arrow, and Oklahoma City Community College offers a 6,000-square-foot soundstage with Avid and RED Digital Cinema technologies.
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The videos were shot against white cyc and greenscreen backgrounds at Bulldog, and at Hanson's nearby studio, with exterior footage captured in Tulsa's Historic Greenwood District. Sixty dancers (see photo) performed as part of "Shout It Out;" both videos were lensed with Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 7D DSLR cameras. "That's significant, because we took advantage of their HD video capabilities," Blagowsky says.
View of downtown Houston. Photo: Courtesy Texas Film Commission
Successful Texas Pitches for More
Texas, another state that's in the midst of its legislative session — the 2009-11 biennium, in this case — is home to a posse of gainfully employed industry professionals who are keeping their fingers crossed for a new incentive bill with a healthy cap.
The recent track record at the Texas Film Commission has been steady and has yielded some good results: In April/May 2009, the legislature passed a $60-million cap for the Texas Movie Image Industry Incentive Program, which provided that the state pay a percentage of its total Texas spend to production companies that apply to the program directed to film, TV, video and spot production.
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The company also handled color correction, the DI with Assimilate's SCRATCH, Foley and ambient sound design. (The company has since added Blackmagic's DaVinci Resolve for Mac to its equipment mix.) Its involvement with the film, which was shot in Ohio and directed by Austin resident Jeff Nichols, "began in mid-July and ended at the end of November," reports Stuck On On executive producer Allison Turrell, and was "a great collaborative effort."
Stuck On On also worked with Santa Monica's Hydraulx on the visual effects; Marin County, California's Skywalker Sound edited and mixed the dialogue and effects and performed the final mix.
The Texas landscape stretches out from Highway 118 near Alpine. Photo: Courtesy Texas Film Commission
In the Lone Star State, producers have been choosing between a wage option and a spend option, each of which works on a sliding scale, each with grant amounts in three tiers.
The first tier for both is targeted to productions with budgets of $250,000 to $1 million and calls for producers to receive between 5 and 8 percent of their qualified Texas spend, plus an additional amount if they use underutilized or economically distressed areas of the state for at least 25 percent of the production shoot. The percentages increase to a maximum of 29.25 percent.
Budgetary threshold is $250,000 for TV and film; $100,000 for video games and commercials. Also, 70 percent of cast and crew must be Texas residents and at least 60 percent of the shooting days must be in Texas.
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Nelson and company (www.maverickstudio.com), shot some "skin" — of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs' mascot, The Coyote, who always refers to work as being "in the skin" — during a half-day shoot in town. He deployed a Panasonic HVX200 1080 HD camera, a doorway dolly on a track for movement and small HMIs and reflectors out of the 3-ton grip truck. There was no audio (since The Coyote is silent) or make up, "just goose bumps on the Spurs' Silver Dancers, who also served as talent, Nelson reports (see photo).
MVP, now in its 19th year, handled editorial in one of its seven, primarily Apple Final Cut Pro suites at its 20,000-square-foot facility.
The total appropriation offered in the state is under discussion in the session, "as is customary," says Evan Fitzmaurice, interim director of the Texas Film Commission.
Hollywood features that have shot in Texas lately include the Coen Brothers' Paramount remake of True Grit, which shot outside of Austin in Granger, Blanco, Smithville and Bartlett; FOX Searchlight's Tree of Life starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, which lensed outside Austin in Smithville; and Houston-born director Richard Linklater's Bernie, a dark comedy and true story concerning a murder involving a Texas funeral-home director which shot near Austin in Bastrop and Carthage.
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The spot was created with Maxon CINEMA 4D software by 3D artist Michael Sands and edited on the Avid Symphony. Sound design was crafted with "a zillion layers of sound effects" by sister company Pure Evil Music. Hagood says Post Asylum has evolved from a post house to a creative partner for clients since "we typically get involved in a given project early in the process."
On the small screen, the fifth season of Friday Night Lights just finished its DirecTV run and will make its season debut on NBC on April 15. Other TV shows shot in Texas during the last year included Jerry Bruckheimer's Chase (NBC); Lone Star and The Good Guys (FOX); and My Generation (ABC), which shot in Austin.
With pilot season starting, Fitzmaurice says that his office is "hopeful of having some big announcements. We have had a robust and competitive program that will allow us to stay in any conversation about locations."
Texas offers considerable soundstage infrastructure with The Studios at Las Colinas in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the Austin Studios facility in the capital and Spiderwood Studios and its backlot also in the Austin area.
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1080 Austin supervised the shoot; the VFX, greenscreen composting and color correction with Autodesk Lustre were handled by colorist and VFX artist Nick Smith. The spot was finished on Autodesk Smoke.
Smith combined practical elements of the shoot with reindeer puppetry (see photo) to give the animals their "goofy, human-faced appearance," says 1080 Austin general manager Tobin Holden. "It was great working with the talent from Fueld, led by director Ben Hurst, and it gave Nick a chance to color and composite concurrently. That [process] gives art directors far more flexibility since they aren't locked into one look."
Cerro Pelon western set at Galisteo, New Mexico. Photo: Don Gray
Do Cuts Loom in New Mexico?
One of the most notable success stories in the rather brief history of production tax incentive programs in the United States is that of New Mexico. The former governor, Bill Richardson, was among those who saw the benefit of a state that was not known as a production haven offering generous incentives. He, the state legislature and industry insiders made it pay off.
During Richardson's reign as governor from 2003 until early this year, more than 150 major film and television productions lensed in New Mexico with an estimated economic impact of almost $4 billion. The numbers grew to 10,000 direct and indirect film-related jobs in the state, and more than 250 businesses and services directly related to the industry, with thousands more providing support goods and services.
However, Susana Martinez is now running the state, and its legislature, like many others, is in the position of trying to figure out how to allocate a dwindling pile of funding. In addition, there are many new lawmakers in the mix — who may or may not fully understand the concept of how a tax credit or rebate program works. That has caused more than a few folks to reach for the Maalox.
The Santa Fe Reporter recently reiterated that the only expenses to qualify for the current 25-percent refund are taxable production costs. In other words, if a film producer paid $92 in taxable expenses and $8 in state taxes, the total — $100 — would be used to calculate the rebate: $25.
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The state's bustling film scene was the impetus for Tom and Linda Shaughnessy to open New Mexico Film Rentals (www.newmexicofilmrentalsonline.com) and provide production crews with Technocranes and remote heads.
"Scorpio stabilized remote heads are used for driving shots," says Tom. "For this bridge shot (over the Taos Gorge, pictured), we used the Scorpio head with a 30-foot Supertechnocrane mounted on a process car. This head keeps the camera stable, no matter what terrain the car is negotiating." New Mexico Film Rentals also offers Aerohead non-stabilized remote heads.
The Shaughnessys "came here from LA three years ago because of [New Mexico's] incentive package and to fill a void in the film-equipment rental market," he notes. "New Mexico has proven to be very popular for filming, and the proximity to LA allows us to ship equipment back and forth easily. Also, the best film crews in the industry are right here."
In an interview with Markee 2.0 last year, former film office director Lisa Strout offered the following: "We still have no cap per year or per project and continue to grow, despite our state's budget deficit." She cited the 3,000 crew jobs, 7,000 residual jobs and 250 companies spawned from New Mexico's investment in the film industry. (Current New Mexico Film Office deputy director Jennifer Schwalenberg declined to be interviewed for this article.)
According to the Santa Fe Reporter, Gov. Martinez has advocated scaling down film incentives from 25 percent to 15 percent; however, it also pointed out that attempts to cut the program have so far failed to get out of committee.
Last year's tally for New Mexico — which included 24 major productions shot for an economic impact of a whopping $836 million — would be a hit by any standards.
Recent Hollywood features shot in the state include The Avengers, the Marvel Studios' superhero film and the largest feature ever made in the state, which made Albuquerque Studios its home for almost a year; Tiger Eyes, based on the Judy Blume novel, which shot last fall in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Los Alamos; portions of the Coen Brothers' True Grit and portions of Goats; plus Truth Be Told and Ten Year. TV credits include AMC's Breaking Bad at Albuquerque Studios and USA Network's In Plain Sight at I-25 Studios; both are now in their fourth seasons.
New Mexico has no lack of soundstage infrastructure with Garson Studios in Santa Fe and I-25 Studios, Albuquerque Studios and Soundstage 41 in Albuquerque; Santa Fe Studios broke ground in January.
Mesa in the Pueblo of Zia, New Mexico. Photo: Don Gray
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"We shot almost [all of the footage] on greenscreen with the actors wearing special costumes: They were playing photons (see picture) shooting off of the sun," says president Stuart Overbey. The spots were lensed with a RED One camera at The Arts Lab, a studio at the nearby University of New Mexico.
Halflife* went script-to-screen for the project, cutting the spots with Adobe Premiere and compositing with Adobe After Effects. The company also kept busy with the conform and color finishing for the indie doc Crime After Crime that went to Sundance this year. For the film halflife* tapped its Assimilate SCRATCH system, part of its DI suite, and "one of about 600" such systems in the world, according to Overbey.
The city center of Las Vegas gleams.
Nevada Bets Incentives Will Drive Business
Unlike many of their peers in other film offices across the country, the folks at the Nevada Film Office aren't nervous about losing incentive funding: They don't have an incentive fund in the first place.
While some major productions show up anyway — largely because they have to shoot Las Vegas exteriors — most of the movies that come to the state are indies like Hungary's The Gambler, according to Film Office director Charlie Geocaris. "Sure, we've had major productions like The Hangover shoot exteriors here, but they may go to New Mexico and shoot the interiors due to the incentive offered there. That's the first thing producers ask about."
Geocaris and his colleagues try to put a positive spin on what Nevada does offer. "We have great accommodations, free permits, friendly locations without much red tape and great weather," he says, "and we are making efforts to get incentives, as we have for eight years. A new package is still in the works, and it would be competitive with other states."
The Nevada legislative session started in early February and lasts until the end of June. "There are a lot of freshman in this class, and there is a learning curve," Geocaris notes. "They often think that The Strip [in Las Vegas], by itself, will attract productions. And they're half right — but that's just for exteriors."
Nevada's Red Rock Canyon under a dusting of snow.
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It's a show about the VIP industry in Las Vegas, which grew from the local entertainment service industry and "often results in patrons spending upwards of $20,000 in one evening," says Gatti who served as director/DP (center in photo). The pilot was shot with various Panasonic HD cameras and edited at 702 on Apple's Final Cut Pro HD; freelancer John Dominic crafted the graphics with Adobe After Effects and other packages.
Also contributing to the production were VaVoom Entertainment's Michael Delucca, who served as co-executive producer; Chuck Bejarano, who shot one segment; and Marcus Clotfelter, who was the primary ENG/EFP audio man. SoundDesign 552 performed the mix.
The most consistent presence in Sin City is The History Channel's reality series Pawn Stars, which often features local store Las Vegas Pawn.
Reality programming often is part of the production scene in the state, such as numerous poker shows, the most recent version of MTV's The Real World plus E!'s Holly's World starring Holly Madison.
A camera crew from Cohencidence Productions shooting Flock of Meese, a sketch-comedy TV pilot,
in Summerlin, Nevada.
Lots of local spots are shot in the state. Station Casinos are a big local advertiser, and Capital One is currently featuring a spot shot at Caesar's Palace. Nevada also gets numerous car spots from automakers such as Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes Benz. "They like to shoot here because of the long and winding roads, and they especially like Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire," says Geocaris.
So even without incentives, the economic impact of the industry is considerable: It was $92 million for fiscal 2010, and the office has reached the $2 billion mark since it opened in 1982.
Although no new stages have been constructed lately, stalwarts like DK Productions, Avrio Studios and Levy Production Group are all considered small to medium-sized spaces. "However," Geocaris says, "we've been meeting once a month with different groups of private investors who want to build a soundstage in the Las Vegas area."
The blue of Lake Tahoe, between California and Nevada, meets the azure sky.
|Exploring 3D Solutions|
"3D is everywhere," says executive producer Al Caudullo, and he should know. Dubbed "a 3D evangelist" by Sandy Climan, former CEO of 3Ality, he's teaching the first university-certified course in stereo 3D production in Thailand (see photo). The class is currently working on a joint project with UNESCO.
And this spring Caudullo begins shooting a 3D travel show for U.S. television sponsored by Gates Underwater housings, Panasonic and the Village at Coconut Island, Thailand. It will feature stunning underwater and topside footage of one of the ten top diving spots in the world near Phuket, Thailand.
Arizona Lobbies for New, Improved Plan
Arizona is in a similar situation to that of Nevada at the moment, except that Arizona did have incentives; they expired on Dec. 31 2010, however.
"So we're working on a new plan," says Ken Chapa, director of the Arizona Film Office. "The biggest thing on our plate at the moment is getting this new incentive plan passed."
If it passes, it's going to be different than the prior plan. The new option would be a 20-percent refundable credit, "so it means getting a check back, instead of a transferable credit that could be sold on the back end and monetized," Chapa says. "The old one was between 20 percent and 30 percent, which varied due to how much investment the production company made in the state."
The idea is to make the process much simpler this go 'round, if the plan passes. "We'll know by mid-March, hopefully sooner," Chapa reports.
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Viewers peer into every room of the two-story set — a dollhouse come to life (see photo) — thanks to a 30-foot Supertechnocrane to see the family using phones, computers and game consoles throughout the house before ultimately meeting up in the living room to watch a movie.
Owner/senior editor Rob Beadle says Copper Post did the edit on Apple's Final Cut Pro HD and color correction with Apple Color. The company also handled the pre-viz, on-set VFX supervision, 3D modeling and animation in Autodesk 3ds Max and 3D camera tracking with Andersson Technologies' SynthEyes. The company has since purchased Blackmagic's DaVinci Resolve for the Mac for color correction.
The Colorado River flows through Yuma, Arizona.
He has noticed that many producers are willing to take a lesser incentive rebate percentage in exchange for an easier-to-use system. "That's what we're shooting for now. The incentive was a transferable credit that the producer had to spend at least $250,000 in state to qualify for. If they did, they were eligible for the 20-percent credit."
While there are no Hollywood studio films shooting in the state, there have been a considerable number of indies in production, including some with high-profile names. Will Ferrell's Everything Must Go shot last summer in Phoenix and is on the festival circuit; Goats, currently underway in Tucson, has David Duchovny, famed for The X-Files, among the leads.
Well-known names involved with indies seem to be the trend at the moment. "The big names are getting out of Hollywood and shooting indies instead," says Chapa, "and they're doing it here because they like the weather and the proximity to Southern California," which is just a one-hour plane trip or a six-hour drive away.
Even if film production is somewhat sparse in Arizona, there is plenty of spot action taking place. "We get really busy in that market from late January through May," Chapa says. "When it starts getting hot around here it [drops], then it picks back up in October."
Prescott, Arizona's Watson Lake is distinguished by its granite boulders.
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Film Creations handled production and post on the videos (see photo), which are about the spa's educational program, cooking classes, beauty treatments and other offerings. Owner Richard Rose says each video runs from two to four minutes and is repurposed for various Canyon Ranch locations, including onboard the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth retired luxury liners.
The graphics-intensive videos were lensed with the Sony HVR-Z7U and cut inhouse on Apple's Final Cut Pro HD with Adobe After Effects and NewTek LightWave graphics. Film Creations recently upgraded all three of its editing suits (plus a digitizing suite) with the latest Dual Quad-Core Intel processors. A new HVR-7ZU and VariZoom jib with hot-head are part the equipment mix.