Front Row Center Newsletter from the Greater Columbus Arts Counsil


By Anna Lapp

The lights dim. Sound blares. Colors explode. When we venture to a movie theater, or turn on the television at home, we engage in a viewing experience that captures our attention and our imagination. Every time we pop in a DVD or stream Netflix, we feed a billion dollar industry.

When we think about films, we often imagine New York City or Los Angeles. It’s the classic default for major films—sky scrapers, epic city sights, and a range of backdrops. But is it really? For instance, a large portion of the city scenes in “Marvel’s The Avengers” were filmed in Cleveland. The production of films is not limited to NYC or LA, and Columbus is on its way to becoming a part of that billion dollar industry.

In the 2013 July edition of GCAC’s Front Row Center, Jennifer Sadler discussed Columbus as a film-friendly city. With Ohio’s Motion Picture Tax Credit, the advancements of the Greater Columbus Film Commission (Film Columbus), and the many incredible people on the forefront of Columbus cinema, it was clear that our city is one to be proud of.

Where We Are Now & What Needs to Happen Next

In order to learn more about the next steps for the Columbus film scene, we talked to Chris Hamel, president and chief programmer of Gateway Film Center and president of Film Columbus’s board of directors, and John Daugherty, interim executive director of Film Columbus.

“In the work to make Columbus a true “film city,” our greatest asset is, without a doubt, the people…we have hundreds of smart, hardworking and committed people who are going to form the foundation for building that vision and making it come true,” said Hamel.

The commitment of people—both those that work for the film commission and the city—struck both Hamel and Daugherty. “I feel our biggest differentiator is our people. We have a lot of really enthusiastic people that want to help,” commented Daugherty.

But in order to grow further, Daugherty noted some challenges the city will need to address. The crew base—meaning off-camera workers from the art department, grips, special effects, and electrical department, to costume and wardrobe, etc.—is smaller in Columbus than both Cleveland and Cincinnati.

“We’re almost at a catch-22 right now because productions are afraid to come because they’ll have to pull crew from other cities, and crews won’t move here because the productions aren’t here,” said Daugherty.

It costs more for productions to pull crews from other cities. If productions could find and hire skilled local crews, more movies would be produced here. In short, the more movies produced in Columbus means more crew members would move here and vice versa.

Filming at the Ohio Statehouse

Filming at the Ohio Statehouse

Mayor Coleman’s office has, in fact, been a major supporter of attracting films to Columbus, including the recent filming of the John Travolta vehicle “I Am Wrath.”

In a recent Dispatch article, Mayor Coleman noted that “if we combine this film with other efforts and keep trying to go down this road, it can help be a catalyst for additional film and television opportunities.”

With Ohio’s Motion Picture Tax credit, that offers up to a 35% refundable tax credit, it’s no wonder that major motion pictures would find Columbus an ideal place to film.

A large portion of the push for film production in Columbus is the economic impact. Thanks to Ohio’s tax credit, filmmakers can receive “a refundable tax credit that equals 25 percent off in-state spend and non-resident wages, and 35 percent in Ohio resident wages on eligible productions.” In simpler terms, the tax credit helps stretch a film’s budget, but it also has a positive economic impact on the city.

Filmmakers get a larger tax break if they hire Ohio crew, which means more jobs for Ohioans. More jobs means more tax revenue, more money spent in neighborhoods and local businesses.

While large-budget films garner more publicity for our city, it’s the smaller budget films (around $10 million or under) where Columbus is likely to see real growth with attracting a regular stream of productions.

While a $10 million budget is highly conservative by Hollywood standards, there are more low-budget productions and producers willing to work with a city like Columbus.

“The people making a movie in that range are experts at finding the easiest places to work, where they are supported by the city, and where costs are reasonable,” said Hamel. “I think it’s a great health check for Columbus to note that we have had two low-budget movies made here in the last year,” he added, referring to I Am Wrath and The Tank.

Plans are in place to announce a state-of-the-art digital post-production facility on CCAD’s campus that would be headed by OFG.

Plans are in place to announce a state-of-the-art digital post-production facility on CCAD’s campus that would be headed by OFG.

Columbus as More Than a Filming Location

Production location is just one avenue of film work in Columbus. Post-production work  is equally important to our city’s credibility as a major film force. From editing to special effects to sound editing, a large amount of a film’s work takes place during post production—especially a film that relies heavily on special effects.

While this work requires a lot of talent and skill, it does not need to happen in NYC or LA. With the right group of people and equipment post-production work can not only easily happen in Columbus, but could potentially be more cost effective.

This is why a development in the works between the Ohio Film Group (OFG) and Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) is so exciting. Plans are in place to announce a state-of-the-art digital post-production facility on CCAD’s campus that would be headed by OFG. Their staff, many of whom are relocating to Columbus from LA, will work on films, TV shows, and high-end commercials. Both CCAD and Ohio State University students will have the opportunity to learn and work in the studio, hopefully becoming the next generation of filmmakers to call Columbus home.

What comes along with creating connections in our city is forming bonds with others. Hamel and Daugherty run the Film Festival of Columbus (FFOCOL). Running from August 13-20, and in its fourth year, the film festival “aims to bring people together, showcasing seasoned and rising filmmakers and extraordinary work from around the world”.

“We’re pleased with the growth we’ve seen in just a couple years, and we think this year is going to be really terrific,” said Hamel. “We’re looking at expanding to some unique venues for individual screenings, which will be very cool.” And very cool it is. Columbus’ up-and-coming film scene is not only an asset to our community, but a marker that connects our cultural relevance with other key filmmakers.

In June, the city of Columbus and the Greater Columbus Arts Council will host a Film Summit. The summit will bring stakeholders together to discuss the challenges Columbus still faces in attracting business from the film industry. Participants will also hear from leaders in cities that have already developed strong ties with the film industry, such as New Orleans.

Hamel remarked that in leading up to the summit, they’ve talked about creating “a culture of support.”

“That means we spread the word to business, arts and community leaders that having an attitude of support for film productions benefits us all. In the best film cities, filmmakers are welcomed eagerly, and everyone works to make their work easier. We’ll see the rewards if we build that here.”

Why Columbus?

When I asked Daugherty and Hamel “Why Columbus?,” they both had heartfelt answers. Daugherty said he came to Columbus in 1986 to attend OSU and never left.

“I say this a lot, but the city has been good to me. So I want to give back a little,” Daugherty explained.

Columbus has become his home—it’s a place both to work in and to work for.

Hamel highlights the same notion. “Columbus is an extraordinary city. The arts community is strong and full of talent, but it’s still accessible. There isn’t the distance between everyday life and the arts here that I’ve found in the bigger cities I’ve lived and worked in.”

At the end of the day, it’s the extraordinary nature of a city that works together that makes an impact. For Hamel and Daugherty, film is a part of everyday life. They live it, they work it, they believe in it. Columbus is an arts city, and film has become crucial to its arts industry. To become the true “film city” that Hamel and Daugherty imagine, we have to show the industry that Columbus has a unique set of skills that makes this city an incomparable partner.

Author Anna Lapp serves as an intern for the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s Marketing, Communications & Events department.  She is set to graduate this May from The Ohio State University with a degree in English and minors in professional writing and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. As a senior, Anna is pursuing an undergraduate research thesis on Victorian literature and the use of the pseudonym. She is an avid lover of the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, and 19th century British literature. 


Denny Griffith & Aminah Robinson at the Columbus Metropolitan Club