Cleveland, Detroit & Pittsburgh: The Midwest Movie Belt
|Check out the full infographic at the bottom of this story.|
Today, all three cities are in the midst of a renaissance. New industries are taking hold in each city, enticing thought leaders and young professionals to put down roots and make the
home. Bio-medical, technology, social services and education are fueling the
But the most exciting and surprising new industry for
Cleveland, Detroit and is the motion
picture industry. Pittsburgh
In fact, the three metropolitan areas, no more than a five-hour drive apart, account for the vast majority of major motion picture production in Ohio, Michigan and the Western Pennsylvania region - well beyond 500 feature films in the last three decades.
Those films include
blockbusters like Marvel’s The
Avengers, The Dark
Knight Rises, Transformers
and the soon-to-be filmed Man
of Steel 2: Superman vs. Batman.
In short, the region is the
one-and-only Movie Belt. It’s giving the rest of the nation a true run for its
big budget money. And it’s offering film professionals a chance to settle down
and build a successful career right at home.
Everything a filmmaker could want
Arguably, the Midwest’s Movie Belt is catching up to
California and New York
as one of the busiest hubs for movie making in the A quick example. Only four
feature films shot in and around U.S.
in 2012, according to the Chicago
Film Office’s website. In the Movie Belt? Nearly 30. Chicago
|On the set of 'The Dark Knight Rises' in Pittsburgh|
But the Movie Belt has a lot to offer filmmakers. And it all starts with unique architecture and easy accessibility to varied topography within a short drive of downtown, says Ivan Schwarz, director of the Cleveland Film Commission.
“There’s nothing a filmmaker can’t do in
The same goes for
Pittsburgh and . Jessica Conner,
assistant director of the Pittsburgh Film
Office, touts the Detroit as a modern ‘burg
with several culturally diverse surrounding boroughs. Steel
“Farms, suburbs and small towns are all within 20 minutes of downtown hotels,” she says. “The
area offers many different looks
all within a small, accessible radius of the city.” Pittsburgh
Accessibility is a perk for productions in
, too. Detroit
“Projects love filming in
because of the incredible architecture and the wide range of locations that are
easily found within a relatively small distance from the city,” says Michelle
Begnoche, public relations manager for the Michigan Film Office. “From a
downtown urban scene, to a suburban feel, to even farm fields and small town Detroit U.S.A. you can find it all within about 20 miles
of .” Detroit
A focus on customer service
|On the set of 'The Avengers' in Cleveland|
And as the saying goes, size doesn’t matter. Some film productions require a fair amount of hand-holding, while others require nothing at all.
“We assist every production - from a photo shoot to a major feature film - the same way,” says Conner. “We’re equally available to all of them. They receive the same resources and the same level of assistance. The Lifeguard (starring Kristen Bell, shot in
Pittsburgh and Sewickley
Valley, Penn.) was considered low
budget by Hollywood standards, and they experienced a very successful shoot in
southwestern .” Pennsylvania
Giving filmmakers an incentive
Unique locations and strong customer service is appealing to every film production. But the hard truth is shooting on location is an expensive and complex logistical endeavor. Producers must transport crew and equipment, house and feed crew and cast, secure rights to shoot on location, control crowds, divert traffic, deal with changes in weather and local governmental opinion - the list goes on and on.
In short, the pros of shooting on location somewhere in the Movie Belt (or anywhere else for that matter) are often overshadowed by the cons. So it’s imperative that states that want to attract film production and build a sustainable entertainment industry for the long-term provide some incentive for producers to opt for location shooting.
|On the set of 'Transformers' in Detroit|
“Without our film incentive, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” says Schwarz.
The Ohio Film Tax Credit provides for a refundable credit against the corporation franchise or income tax for motion pictures produced in
The tax credit is equal to 25% of non-wage and nonresident wage Ohio Ohio production expenditures and 35% of resident wage production expenditures.
Up to $5 million in credits is available per production. Ohio
“The incentive is applied to the film’s budget line and, in turn, the incentive is then spent in
,” explains Schwarz. “That money never
leaves the state. It’s spent on local crews and cast, locations, local vendors,
hotels, restaurants, shops and so on.” Ohio
|On the set of the low-budget 'A Strange Brand of Happy'|
Growing a new industry
Schwarz compares the Movie Belt’s burgeoning film industry to the region’s traditional industries - automotive and manufacturing. In their heyday, those industries fueled economic growth by supporting ancillary businesses that in turn strengthened the industry - tool and die shops that supplied the automakers with parts, for example. All the way down to supermarkets and shops in the neighborhoods where employees bought homes and raised families.
“What we do isn’t just about ‘the movies’,” says Schwarz. “It’s about building the infrastructure that will support the industry. We want and need to nurture the growth of vendors and services that will support, form and become a part of the industry.
“We don’t want to end the day with a big fish in our small ocean. We want to be a busy ocean with lots and lots of fish of all shapes and sizes. And we want to support that eco-system for years and years and years.”
That industry includes production work outside the film and television world. All three cities are focused on growing their digital media and video gaming production base, as well.
Working independently - together
With similar goals, comparable challenges and close proximity to one another, one might wonder if the
Detroit, Cleveland and
film commissions might ally with one another to drive even more business to the
|Spider-Man 3 on the streets of Cleveland|
“We always work with our fellow film offices,” says Conner. “We share information and resources when needed to make each of the offices better.”
Schwarz concurs. “We’re all in it for the same reason. We all draw from one another.”
And as with all things
Detroit, Cleveland and ,
there’s always a bit of good-natured rivalry. Pittsburgh
“Of course there’s friendly competition,” says Conner, adding that part of that rivalry is born out of
sharing a similar look. “But we’re fortunate in that we have had a
long-established film history. Filmmakers have made moves here since 1914 with
the Perils of Pauline.” Pittsburgh
|Ohio filmmaker Chris Peplin on the set|
of the low-budget 'Beautiful Garden'
Schwarz circles back, underscoring the importance of relationship building and customer service.
“It’s not just about bringing them (to one of the cities), but providing that good experience while they’re here. That’s why they come back. And we couldn’t do it without our partners and our crews, vendors and the community - all willing to help out and support our efforts.”
The real winners - local film professionals
Borders may separate each film office, but they don’t keep film professionals from working in and around all three cities.
Sustaining a freelance career as a production assistant, makeup artist or grip was next to impossible 20 years ago, but today it’s entirely possible. Only five hours by car separates
And the film professional who calls Pittsburgh
home can get to either city in about two hours. Cleveland