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Archive for Sunday, December 3, 1989

CURTAIN STILL RISING ON KANSAS FEATURE FILM INDUSTRY

December 3, 1989

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Since "The Day After" was filmed in Lawrence in 1982, an estimated $12 million has been pumped directly into the local ecomony by filmmakers, the Lawrence Film Commission estimates.

Local and state officials who promote the state as a film site are quick to point out the multiplier effect of those dollars on a community. According to the California Film Office, every film dollar turns over 5.5 times in a community.

Most of the money spent here is tapped by existing businesses. Grocery stores, hardware stores, restaurants, lumber yards and hotels clean up when the free-spending Hollywood types come to town.

Outside filmmakers have increased their spending in the state from $500,000 in 1982 to about $7 million this year, said Jerry Jones, director of the Kansas Film Commission.

But there still are far too few feature flicks being made here to hatch any full-time offshoot film-related businesses, such as full-time production crews, prop houses or large studios, Jones said.

HOWEVER, LOCAL film production freelancers aren't waiting around for the Kansas feature film industry to move out of its infancy.

They're finding work in less publicized film-making ventures, ranging from commercials to educational documentaries.

"For the community, the feature film is great," says Tim Rebman, a local film production freelancer. "For the production people, it's gravy. But you have to have other things going. You can't live off the feature business here."

Rebman has developed a freelance network, called Firstlight Productions, to help area film production workers find employment outside of the mainstream feature films that come to the area.

"You have to be extremely flexible and multi-talented," Rebman said. "I am anything that pays."

HE WAS ASSISTANT art director on "Nice Girls Don't Explode" in 1985 and was props assistant on "Kansas" in 1987.

"I do everything from makeup to directing, which is rather schizophrenic, but it's what you have to do to survive here and stay in this area," Rebman said. "Production people from the coast don't understand that because there is such intense specialization that goes on there. But except in a few small areas that you specialize in around here, you just don't make a living."

Firstlight came into existence about a year ago. And during that time it has had "a fairly fluid group" of freelancers, ranging from 20 to 30 people at a time, he said. They include strictly production and crew labor a couple of producers, directors, a few writers, camera people, makeup artists and prop people, he said.

"YOU ALWAYS hear about the impact of feature films here," Rebman said. "But what has a big impact are national commercials."

A company working on a national commercial might not bring in the celebrities or the mystique of the feature films, he said.

"But it will hang around a week and pop half a million into town," he said. "National spots kick a lot of cash around real quick."

Rebman said he worked as the key production assistant on the Nike Bo Jackson commercials shot in Lawrence and Kansas City, Mo.

He also worked on a British Airways commercial that was shot north of Topeka a few months ago and for a commercial for Chevron that was shot in Ottawa last year. Most recently, he was one of the coordinators of a national commercial for an Ivomec cattle wormer product.

Despite the growth in feature films, it isn't growing fast enough, Rebman said.

"YOU NEVER know if they're going to hire and you never know if they're going to pay you a living wage," he said. "It's a big crap shoot."

For example, Michael Landon brought his own crew and didn't hire any production help when he came to Lawrence to film "Where Pigeons Go to Die" in October.

Rebman said a major problem is that there isn't enough work to go around among members of the local feature production community who are trying to make a living at their vocation.

"Right now it's a novelty," he said. "I want to see a point where it is a day-to-day business, with a film crew going all the time. And that can happen."

What the city needs is for a feature film to originate from Lawrence, he said.

"Right now, no matter what we do, we're going to be looked at as production assistants when they come into town," Rebman said. "When we create our own features, we will be undeniably filmmakers then."

MEANWHILE, LOCAL freelancers often are sought out by film crews that come to town to work on other projects.

For example, Brad Murphy, of Red House Audio, who has a recording studio on Massachusetts Street above Raney Drugs, did some sound recording for Michael Landon on a project unrelated to "Pigeons."

Murphy's studio was used to record Landon's narration of a TV production called "Raising Good Kids in Bad Times," which Landon hosts and narrates.

Filmmakers also often get in touch with Lawrence's Centron, a non-theatrical film production company that has been in Lawrence for 42 years.

Production crews for feature films often rent Centron's 6,000-square-foot sound stage, said Bob Kohl, Centron's president.

Michael Landon's crew built an elaborate set in Centron's studio for some shooting in October on "Pigeons," he said.

"WE'VE HAD commecials come in and music video come in," Kohl said. "This business of renting our studies is a minor part of our total operation."

The business primarily produces educational, training and promotional films for schools, businesses, public relations, government agenices, national corporations," he said.

"There seems to be more and more interest in coming here and our studio is one of the factors in them coming here," he said.

Linda "Sam" Haskins, who has operated her own film production company, Take Ten Inc., for the last three years, said she has been involved in non-theatrical films.

Her business has been totally unaffected by feature filmmaking in the area, she said.

"It's like oil and water. It's run in different circles," she said.

JONES, OF the Kansas Film Commission, said a large studio with several sound stages, offices and viewing rooms to screen the dailies, would speed up the goal of the feature film industry to stand on its feet.

That's a goal of Marcus McCloud, vice president of Oread Entertainment Inc. His company's has planned for several years to build a large sound stage facility in the Oread West Research Park in western Lawrence.

"It's definitely more than an idea," McCloud said. "But it's taken us much longer than we anticipated."

In March 1987, the Lawrence City Commission granted his company $3.5 million in industrial revenue bonds for the movie studios's construction. But plans have been delayed, McCloud said.

Meanwhile, his production company has concentrated most of its efforts on producing the types of films that bring in the money non-theatrical films, videos, and corporate and educational promotional films, he said.

"THERE IS a need for a sophisticated sound stage in Lawrence," McCloud said. "We're just trying to make sure we come up with a practical structure and concept."

He said the company's idea has evolved into a goal of a sound stage that would be employed regularly for non-theatrical productions as well as for occasional use by a feature film.

"The closest sound stage capable of doing feature film work is in Dallas," he said. "We need a stage of 8,000 square feet or better in order to attract the outside feature film companies. . . . The more activity that takes palce in the Lawrence area, the closer we get to reality."

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