New Hampshire film industry ready for “Action!”

More communication and more support – that’s what the majority of filmmakers and film professionals said they wanted from the New Hampshire Film and Television Office at a roundtable held in April at the studios of New Hampshire Public Television in Durham.

“In a nutshell, we’re trying to get filmmakers and the other production professionals in this state connected together, making the industry even more viable,” said Van McLeod, commissioner of the state Department of Cultural Resources, of which the Film and Television Office is part. The office’s mission is to promote the state of New Hampshire as a location for film and television productions and to encourage and support New Hampshire filmmakers.

Surprisingly, Hollywood wasn’t mentioned by the 50 attendees at the roundtable, but the need for more resources and a more cohesive community was.

A wide range of other issues also was briefly discussed, including easier access to production insurance for new independent filmmakers; distribution resources for independent productions; a directory of theaters willing to screen independent films; the capabilities of theaters to handle today’s digital formats; and how to ensure that production crews act responsibly when filming, especially with respect to physical damage or community sentiment.

In some ways, the office is starting from scratch. The New Hampshire Film Office was moved from the Department of Travel and Tourism to the Department of Cultural Resources last July.

The move has created an opportunity for a new outlook for the film office. At the time of the move, no additional funding or personnel were given to the new department, “but that has been addressed in this year’s budget,” said McLeod, adding that his priorities for the office are “structure and organization.”

The office will be adding a full-time employee as a film specialist to run the day-to-day operations of the film office and act as a liaison between the film community and the Cultural Resources Department.

McLeod’s other priorities, he said, include getting the office’s Web site up to date with resources, facilitating an “electronic community,” where filmmakers can network, and hosting more roundtables.

Legislative action

It’s not clear how much business the film industry brought to New Hampshire last year, said McLeod, adding that lack of funds and personnel made it unable to track such figures.

He did say that, when scenes for the short-lived CBS program, “The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire,” were shot last year, the production crew spent more than $800,000 over a three-week period.

For another example, McLeod cited a recent shoot for J. Crew, the catalog company. “They brought 20 people to the state for two weeks. That’s 20 people staying in hotels, eating food, using services, so you know they spent something. The problem is that it is a temporary industry, and it’s difficult to track,” he said.

He said a renewed focus on the film office, largely based on legislation sponsored by Sen. Carl Johnson, R-Meredith, is helping to support its mission.

Senate Bill 55 – passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Lynch — expands membership on the Film Commission, the advisory arm of the state’s film office. In addition to members from the executive branch and the Legislature, the commission now has representatives from local associations, such as chiefs of police, who can be instrumental in coordinating location shoots. SB 55 also encourages the use of New Hampshire talent in state-sponsored promotional initiatives.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski, an adjunct professor of scriptwriting at the University of New Hampshire-Manchester and a professional screenwriter and script consultant, was encouraged by what she heard at the roundtable.

“I think film industry professionals in this state are poised and ready to move forward. I think we have a very experienced and unique talent pool,” she said. “So many folks have spent years in LA and have come back here to work.”

But, she said, promoting a means of communication among people in New Hampshire is an important issue. “Filmmaking is such a collaborative process. For me, a big priority is to make sure that New Hampshire filmmakers are connected, and that communication is upgraded, constant and immediate,” said Biscotti Myskowski.

Encouraging tone

But filmmaker Bill Millios said he’d like to see less talk and more action. He didn’t attend the roundtable largely because of the lack of support he said he received in the nearly 10 years he’s been involved in making feature films in New Hampshire.

“We’ve been working so hard, and there hasn’t been much feedback from the New Hampshire Film Office,” he said. “It seemed to me they were more concerned with Hollywood than New Hampshire.”

He said he’d like to see the office act as a “go-between” in production assistance, especially to help filmmakers find locations where they can to shoot their projects.

“It’s one thing if I call a small restaurant and say that I’d like to film there, but if the state’s film office calls, even if it’s just a heads-up, it lends an even greater air of legitimacy,” he said.

Despite the criticism, Millios was still upbeat. “I’m really encouraged by the new tone from the film office. There are a lot of good filmmakers here. The talent level is wonderful. There are wonderful advantages to filming here. The access to locations is so much easier than in California.”

That access is what Eliza Leadbeater, executive director of the Belknap County Economic Development Council, is trying to supply. She has been spearheading efforts to create a full-scale production facility in the Lakes Region.

“Several years ago, a warehouse facility became available, and we were hoping to turn it into a production studio,” said Leadbeater. “We had folks out from the film industry take a look and said the property was perfect for that use. We were really looking to turn it into a MacDowell Colony for film.”

The Tilton campus includes a 34,000-square-foot space that could be used for a soundstage or still shoots; an office building with a variety of spaces for storage, rehearsals, construction, meetings and offices; and areas for a screening room, commissary, reception and administrative support.

Several deals and opportunities fell through, and the economic council revamped its production studio idea.

“We’d really like to turn it into an industry cluster, similar to a medical office building with multiple independent specialty practitioners,” she said. “The concept is that an investor would really be doing nothing more than owning an office block.”

The property location itself has several advantages. “Its central location [in the state] makes it ideal. It’s located less than three miles from Interstate 93. There is an all-weather municipal airport about 10 minutes away, but the property is sheltered and you hear no airplane noise. Manchester Airport is less than an hour away,” she said.

Leadbeater’s ideas for the facility extend beyond just shooting a film or catalog spread. “Down the road, it would be nice to bring in the tech college and start a training program, possibly in computer animation.”

She mentioned several advantages New Hampshire has in attracting and retaining the film industry, primarily no sales tax or income tax.

“You don’t have to pay income taxes on wages earned here during filming. And while Toronto gets a lot of production work because fees are low, when you add in the exchange rates, multiple layers of taxes, it far outweighs any savings,” she said.

Commissioner McLeod agreed. “We think New Hampshire could be an extraordinarily film-friendly state, but we need to interpret our assets to our state. We don’t want everybody, we don’t need the film industry to be large for it to be a success,” he said.

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