Midwest movie hub?

Drawing the film industry to the Miami Valley

By Kevin J. Gray

Earlier this year, representatives from film advocacy groups in Dayton, Cincinnati and Cleveland joined forces in Columbus to persuade lawmakers to increase the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit, a substantial tax credit for films that shoot and hire within Ohio. The efforts worked and the tax credit doubled. Now one of those groups, FilmDayton, a Miami Valley non-profit dedicated to advancing Dayton’s stature in the film industry, is hard at work promoting film in the Dayton area.

As the name implies, FilmDayton advocates for all things film. Their mission is to promote art, education and economic development, and they do so by shining a spotlight on the art form, educating local aspiring filmmakers and making it easier for films to shoot in the Miami Valley.

The organization is probably best known for the FilmDayton Festival, held this past August. This year marked the 4th annual iteration of the festival, a showcase that celebrates the long legs of Dayton’s film community. More than 1,300 people came out to eight screenings to see more than 40 films, as well as to participate in workshops and other film events over the course of the three-day festival.

The festival highlights films with a connection to the Miami Valley. Some of the films are shot and produced in Dayton; others may be shot elsewhere, but hold some tie to the Gem City, often because the writer, director or producer trained in the Dayton area before moving to their current residence. Locally produced shorts – created by area film students and aspiring filmmakers – open each feature film. The result is a large-scale festival with a local feel.

In addition to producing and hosting the annual film festival, FilmDayton also helps promote local films. Earlier this month, the organization worked to promote the local premier of Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar’s latest work, “Sparkle,” which won the Audience Award for Best Short Documentary at SilverDocs, America’s largest documentary film festival, and has been picked up by PBS. FilmDayton also helped promote the Neon premier of “True Nature,” a supernatural thriller shot entirely in Dayton that has played at over 40 film festivals here and abroad.

Megan Cooper, the executive director of FilmDayton, explains that the organization wants to help spread the word about local film to make the community aware: “There’s so much great stuff happening, but a lot of times people don’t know where to find it or what’s going on. At FilmDayton … we want to make sure that people are aware of everything that is available.”

In addition to promoting the art, FilmDayton educates filmmakers. The non-profit hosts three major education initiatives. The first is 48-Hour Filmmaker Boot Camp. This intensive program brings professional filmmakers and their equipment into schools and community centers. Participants walk through story telling, production and post-production. Over the course of a weekend, the group creates their own short film. The program not only allows entry into the art form, but it also teaches important soft skills, such as story telling, collaboration and problem solving.

FilmDayton also sponsors Film Connections, a monthly meeting that combines education with networking. Typically held at ThinkTV on the last Tuesday of the month, the event features an industry speaker and a social hour where local filmmakers talk about their projects and team up with potential resources.

Finally, FilmDayton hosts several professional development workshops annually. The events are geared towards those in the industry, and tend to cover topics more in-depth than those covered at the Film Connections meetings. Recent workshops have included topics ranging from how to become a production assistant to financing your indie film.

The education programs also tie into the third area of focus for FilmDayton, economic development. The programs seek to create local know-how that enables the area to provide logistical support for feature films shot in the Miami Valley. Film is good business for the area. FilmDayton noted in a recent Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce business briefing, for every $1.00 spent attracting a film, $1.20 goes back into community.

To that end, FilmDayton is working to leverage Dayton’s diverse landscape by building a location database to attract films to the area. From upscale mansions to gritty urban landscapes to woodsy locales, the Miami Valley is rich in potential film locations. FilmDayton is cataloging available sites so that the group can provide multiple location options to scouting directors. The organization is working with not only individuals, but also local visitor’s bureaus and Chambers of Commerce to flesh out the database.

In addition to attracting films to the area and educating filmmakers, the organization is producing a series of its own. FilmDayton is eager to announce the release of “Freak Club,” a six episode web series. The idea for a web series grew out of several Film Connections meetings, where members agreed to volunteer their time to put their ideas to work. Professionals and amateurs in the area came together, donating time and equipment, to produce this series. It was pitched last year and over three weekends this August, the episodes were shot. They are in post-production now, and they are expected to launch in late winter/early fall. The episodes are 100 percent shot in Dayton, with cast, crew and location all from the Gem City.

For more information about FilmDayton, including events listings, see their website at filmdayton.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@daytoncitypaper.com

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