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Hollywood finds northeast Ohio great filming location

Jay Roach, director of films such “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” along with the recent “Trumbo,” will be directing the film “67 Shots” adapted from the eponymous book. It will be written by Stephen Belber, who has written for stage, screen and television. (AP file photo)

Legal News Reporter

Published: December 5, 2017

Two Hollywood movies have recently been filmed in the Youngstown area, with potentially more are on the way according to Fred D’Amico, head of the Youngstown Regional Film Commission.

And in Kent, plans are underway to film 67 Shots, based on one of the many histories of the Kent State May 4, 1970 shootings. That movie will be produced by a team that includes Tina Fey, whose husband is a Garrettsville native and Kent State grad.

YFRC “is a nonprofit that is dedicated to bringing the economic benefits of filmmaking from Hollywood to Youngstown and surrounding areas, from the lake to the river,” said D’Amico. The organization talks directly with Hollywood producers to show them the benefits of making movies here. And they have had some recent success.

Filming has just wrapped up in Youngstown and surrounding areas for the independent movie thriller “Them That Follow,” said the film’s producers Michael Helfant of Amasia Entertainment and Danielle Robinson of G-Base productions. The film is set in an Appalachian snake church and was filmed in Salem and Calcutta in Columbiana County and in Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, among other locales. The crew and cast stayed in a hotel in Boardman, and spent money all throughout the area.

“Them That Follow” stars Jim Gaffigan and Walter Goggins in a cast that also features Kaitlyn Dever (”Last Man Standing”), Thomas Mann (”Project X)”, Alice Englert (”Beautiful Creatures”), and Bradley Gallo (who is also the chief creative officer at “Amasia”).

As far as the producers of “Them That Follow” are concerned, they say the Youngstown area is a perfect place for an independent film project.

“We had a modest budget,” said Helfant. “We came to Youngstown as a creative decision.” However, he also noted that tax credits and city and area financial incentives made the shoot possible.

Balancing out the financial incentives, said Helfant, was the fact the “we left a lot of money on the ground here.”

Bringing Hollywood to Youngstown to film “Them That Follow,” as well as a YouTube feature for MadMedia, were the result of a cooperative effort between the City of Youngstown and the Youngstown Regional Film Commission (YRFC), said D’Amico.

D’Amico said that Youngstown is filled with the kind of urban landscape that Hollywood producers look for, but also emphasized that, beyond that, northeast Ohio has rural landscapes and some economic benefits that filmmakers look for. It was the Appalachian territory surrounding Youngstown that drew this film to the area he said. But there are economic benefits as well.

D’Amico said one of the primary economic benefits that can attract filmmakers is $40 million worth of annual tax credits from the state. Those tax credits can reimburse up to 30 percent of a film’s budget. They are administered by the Ohio Film Office.

The city of Youngstown also has a short-term “float” loan of up to $2 million available for projects like making a movie. The 18-month loan carries a very small interest rate and is secured by a bank letter of credit.

The producers of “Them That Follow” secured about $1.2 million of that loan for their production, said Michael McGiffin, who heads the Youngstown mayor’s office of downtown events and citywide special projects. McGiffin acts as the city’s point person on film production.

“A film’s budget includes expenses that are either ‘below the line’ or ‘above the line’,” said McGiffin. Above-the-line expenditures for a film are the expenses “for the actors, the directors, special effects,” to name a few. “That is usually the majority of a film budget. There is very little economic impact locally.”

On the other hand, money spent by the filmmakers in the community comprises below-the-line expenditures.

“Housing, food, transportation—anything the film crew spends while they are here are ‘below the line,’” said McGiffin.

A recent YouTube film shot in Youngstown by MadMedia spent more than $300,000 in the city in less than a week shooting a four-wheeler driving through a few closed Youngstown factories. That was the first project put together by the city and YFRC. Both D’Amico and McGiffin deemed the project a success.

McGiffin said that he expects “Them That Follow” to have below-the-line expenditures “in six figures, but the final figures can’t really be determined until the final budget is filed after the local part of the production ends.”

The city released final estimates that showed the film’s below-the-line expenditures totaling $500,000, with about $200,000 of that spent within the city.

Beyond that, said Robinson, “we had a great time here. We were able to check out high caliber local actors and potential crew.”

She said that the locales were “amazing.

“We got some great shots of the area. Shooting exteriors while the leaves were changing everyday was a challenge but we shot all of the exteriors in about two weeks.”

Robinson said that and that they would tell their friends back in California about their positive experiences here. “The area is going to get some attention after this,” she said.

The YRFC is not limiting its sights to just the Mahoning Valley, said D’Amico, who pointed out that, within the organization’s “Lake to River” mandate, “Columbiana County has Appalachian geography, which substitutes for Kentucky or West Virginia. Ashtabula County has Lake Erie, which can substitute for any beach or ocean.”

The other counties have unique geographic and historical features that Hollywood filmmakers are looking for, he said.

That includes Portage County and Kent State University.

Kent city’s director of economic development Thomas Wilke recently met with D’Amico to discuss the possibility of the city and YRFC working together in the fashion of the organization and Youngstown.

And it does look like a major film will soon be coming to Kent.

Various published sources have reported that the book 67 Shots will be made into a movie.

According to those reports and one of the producers, pre-production of the film is now underway.

Producers of the film include Tina Fey, Everyman Pictures, and ShivHans, which recently put together “Trumbo.”

Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond, is a Kent State graduate and Garrettsville native who originated the idea for the film. He was in high school when the shootings occurred.

ShivHans producer Monica Levinson, talking from the set of another movie, said “we are definitely making the movie, but it is really too soon to talk about any details. We don’t even have a script yet. But we wanted to get the word out as soon as we could.”

The historic narrative about the May 4, 1970 shootings at Kent State University was written by Howard Means and published in 2016.

The film will be directed by Jay Roach (who directed the “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” films and the recent “Trumbo,” among others). It will be written by Stephen Belber, who has written for stage, screen and television.

The production is preliminary enough that neither spokespeople from the university nor the city of Kent knew anything about it until they were asked about it for this article.

“Nope. Nobody has reached out to us, as far as I know,” said Kent economic development director Tom Wilke. “But we are definitely open to it.”

However, one local person who has been in on virtually the ground floor of discussions about the film is Akron Law Library director Alan Canfora, who was wounded in the May 4 shootings. He said that he has spoken to Roach “a couple of times” and to Levinson, both of whom assured him that the production was live.

“Roach wants to get the story right, and with screenwriter Belber, I believe that the result will be a very factual feature film,” said Canfora.

The bottom line is no matter how this films may fare, the hope is they will only help all of these local economies.

In the meantime, D’Amico recently attended the annual American Filmmaker’s Conference in California, to see if his organization can roust up another local production.

“I talked with a lot of people out there,” he said. “Youngstown film is happening.”

Connect with the YRCF at http://www.youngstownfilmcommission.com; or https://www.facebook.com/youngstownregionalfilmcommission.