The 5th annual Oscar Party at the Gateway Film Center drew film buffs and cinema connoisseurs from all over Columbus for the special one-night-only event to mingle with appetizers, socialize with drinks and network about movies while enjoying the 87th Academy Awards.
Amidst the silver-screen fraternization, party-attendees sampled from a la Academy Awards style swag bags filled with beverages, popcorn, sunglasses, koozies, etc. A favored promotion during the event posited Gateway President & Chief Programmer Chris Hamel against his audience, contesting over Oscar picks — and only eight challengers were able to claim victory. Hamel, as always, was quite gracious, making sure those with antiquated Oscar ballot choices knew their attendance was valued during the presentation, thanking everyone for their participation and support.
Structured as a fundraiser for the Greater Columbus Film Commission, party proceeds were donated to Film Columbus, working to attract larger productions while supporting local creations.
Employing a coup d’etat, the Gateway Oscar Party event was another successful, well thought out power-promotion, an auspicious stepping-stone, consolidating consciousness for the cinema community and Ohio as a film production destination worthy of attention and confidence.
In retrospect, both Chris Hamel and Greater Columbus Film Commission Interim Executive Director John Daughtery have been fastidiously working to make Columbus an attractive destination for the creation of movies. The recent 2014 Film Festival of Columbus, held Oct. 9 through Oct. 16 at the Gateway, drew seasoned and rising filmmakers while promoting Columbus as a legitimate epicenter for all cinema budgets — and that labor is beginning to show dividends.
A good example is Patriot Pictures‘ I am Wrath which begins filming in Columbus in mid-March, with actor John Travolta. Daughtery was recently contacted by movie representatives on Jan. 20, meeting with the film’s producers, Mayor Michael Coleman and other city officials in addition to a tour of various Columbus regions for shooting and production locations. Daughtery said the film has a budget of “about $10 million and Ohio’s motion-picture 35 percent tax credit was a factor” in bringing the production to Columbus.
During the FFOCOL, Now It’s Dark had a chance to talk with John Daughtery and Chris Hamel about the state of the cinematic industry, actually getting a movie produced and shown in theaters and prospects for landing major productions to be filmed in Columbus.
Daughtery and Hamel worked closely together planning and executing FFOCOL, putting together the local and national film sequence based upon daily populist demographics. The 2014 festival was the first year allowing open submissions rather than adhering to a curated system where all the films were hand-picked.
“We also used a website called filmfreeway.com which allowed people to submit their films,” Daughtery said. “From that site, we got about 20 shorts and 2 to 3 feature lengths from some extraordinary locations, from San Diego to Poland to even Russia.”
However, not everyone with a video got “in” to the festival (even if they were from Columbus) and a judicious vetting protocol was employed. As far as the Gateway itself, Hamel refers Columbus hopefuls to the Ohio Grown Film Program, providing sponsored screenings allowing local filmmakers to develop an audience and even share in the generated revenue. The Ohio Grown Film program isn’t vetted to a great degree, Hamel said, as it is really not their role to critique those films to decide which are worthy. However, from a Gateway programming standpoint, Hamel carefully watches everything, choosing films based on many consummate factors.
“Most notably, if I like the film but there’s politics, studio relationships and other various interests and/or considerations that may be applicable,” Hamel said.
Both Daughtery and Hamel, in addition to their love of films and the craft, are intrinsically passionate about assisting the indigenous Columbus cinematic community. According to Daughtery, the idea to increase local film presence combined with a methodology to bring films to Columbus to be produced took shape five years ago, with Daughtery working as negotiator, consultant, scout and location implementor (which he still does).
“If we can get the directors here, it’s a pretty easy sell,” Daughtery said. “Ohio’s amenities and resources are very reasonably priced in comparison to other cities and it’s also a great tax credit … if they spend a million dollars on a film, they get $300K back, so it makes sense to produce the movie here. That’s one of the reasons we decided on creating FFOCOL, to grow it and begin inviting directors in to really experience what Columbus can offer.”
Both remain philosophic about the reality and potentiality of the Greater Columbus Film Commission’s ability to successfully promote Columbus as a filmmaking destination. Hamel, aside from grassroots considerations, sees the Commission constructing a solid foundation while learning the myriad, intricate elements required to navigate through the process.
“The biggest thing we are doing right now on a local level is creating relationships with production houses and people who can provide services so if you’re bringing a major film here, we can find you staff, locations and help with numerous other things, ” Hamel said. “I think the long-term vision of the Film Commission is to create a really vibrant cinematic community, so when filmmakers come in from other areas, they go ‘Oh, my God, these guys have their shit together. Let’s make our movie here.'”
Still, getting directors to consider Ohio is a challenge, although strategy is constantly developing and traction is steadily growing. As one can imagine, just getting the attention of a major filmmaker is an art unto itself, not to mention carving out a block of time to meet, negotiate and implement some sort of collaborative initiative toward getting the production onto Buckeye soil. The FFOCOL ended up becoming the perfect platform to involve filmmakers from all walks of life locally, across the nation and the globe. As prime examples, Daughtery was pleased that former Ohio now San Francisco filmmaker Travis Mathews LGBT work “I Want Your Love” and Los Angeles actress/producer/director Mary Elizabeth Boylan‘s work “Getting Lemons” ended up being part of FFOCOL.
“Travis called me out of the blue, saying ‘I’m thinking about shooting my next film in Ohio, can you show me around?’ We began talking further and I asked him to show it at FFOCOL,” Daughtery said. “Another of the short films screened, Getting Lemons, made it into the festival due to me unintentionally running into Mary. It was beautiful and fortuitous how everything worked out.”
And that kind of innate exposure is imperative, not only for the filmmaker but for the Film Commission and the Gateway. In other words, this is a type of “Cred” that an organization doesn’t always receive from “normal” marketing and advertising avenues. Real Ohio street cred, making a real difference when seated at the bargaining table.
Another factor playing into the Film Commission’s overarching cinematic symphony is succinct recognition of technology’s role or more concisely, how technology has evolved to affect the creation and delivery of film and the motion-picture experience. In our era, films are made in many numbers of ways and giant cameras full of 35 millimeter film are as extinct as Brontosaurs. Hamel believes the Gateway and the Film Commission exist to offer alternatives based upon merit.
“Let’s face it, you can make a movie on your iPhone,” Hamel said. “Films can be made on any number of devices now but what makes a great movie is a great story. Content is king. I am one of the few people in my world who says watching films, no matter how they view them, is good. For us, it is about the nature of our product. When you are home watching NetFlix and your phone rings, you pause the movie and allow yourself to be distracted by something else. At the Gateway, we are placing you in a dark room for two hours, asking you to turn off your cell phone. They are really completely different things. It is about the experience here.”
Movie construction aside, both Hamel and Daughtery agree getting a finished film into a theater is quite difficult as the entire industry has changed. Over the last ten years, theaters installed digital projectors, signing studio agreements helping to fund that installation, thereby giving up much flexibility and freedom regarding content delivery. Studios, utilizing their omniscient scrupulous mentalities, also required the digital projectors to include a device know as an integrator, which charges the venue per show time for films outside the studio system. So, theaters end up paying to screen independent films up to $500 per show time. Hamel believes one part of the Gateway/Columbus Film Commission’s mission is to circumvent this type of restriction, providing all filmmakers with the opportunity to have their work seen in a theater setting, generating the Ohio Grown Film Program.
“If a filmmaker is willing to work with Gateway, we are willing to assist because we are so invested in the local filmmaking community,” Hamel said. “As long as the filmmaker is willing to accept showtimes and scheduling differentiations, we’ll screen it at no risk. It is basically a box office split. If the film draws 100 people, we’ll share the wealth … if the film only brings in five people, we’ll share in the sadness.”
Going the extra mile is a practice both Hamel and Daughtery practice in order to refine and expand their combined “Quest for Ohio Film,” whether it be local or national. Daughtery, during the Sundance Film Festival, met with Director Kellie Madison, convincing her to shoot her film in Ohio. The finished product, called “The Tank,” was recently released.
“This was a good example of bringing the director in, showing them what Columbus had to offer and how they could benefit financially by producing their film here,” Daughtery said. “Every time we are successful bringing a national movie to Ohio we are building our portfolio, inevitably helping our community and cause.”
The message to fledgling local filmmakers is also positive: The Gateway Film Center and the Columbus Film Commission are working to provide a way and a means for amateur auteurs to promote their expositions. While Hamel jokingly says he still cannot provide a Friday night 7:30 p.m. time slot to a newbie filmmaker, he is certainly willing to make sure a 2 p.m. Sunday reservation is available. After all, yes, it is about commerce and building better film institutions in Ohio, but it also about that gentle gasp heard when the novice filmmaker watches their production explode in the darkness across the big screen.
There just is no substitute, certainly not a iPhone or iPad and the public must be educated about the parameters and the value of the experience itself.
“I believe the only way you have a strong film community is to have a lot of people making movies,” Hamel said. “Those filmmakers want to see their movie on a big screen, so it’s our obligation as a locally-owned venue to provide those opportunities.”
Daughtery is smiling.
“What?” Hamel asks.
“Ditto,” Daughtery replies.
Ria Greiff contributed to this article. Additional photography by Scott Alan Greiff.
See more of Scott’s work at www.lightriverphoto.com
About Breck Hapner
Managing Editor Breck Hapner covers every facet of the Columbus nightlife, entertainment, festival, music, food & drink, art, film, and fashion scene, while also being known to pen articles, reviews, editorials, and even photograph from time to time.