Reeling in the area for film locations

Carrie NapoleonPost-Tribune

A huge crowd of potential extras gathered in downtown Crown Point recently, hoping for a chance to appear as part of a protesting crowd, while residents gathered near the police department across the street to watch the scene unfold.

With cast and crew for the Cerulean Filmworks production teeming around city hall and the Crown Point Civic Center, a stretch of downtown became a set for filming the independent movie, “The Things We’ve Seen.” For roughly two weeks, the film was quietly shot in various Lake County locations including Buckley Homestead.

As filmmakers look for user-friendly locations that capture Americana, some are hoping Crown Point’s venture into film could be a sign of things to come.

“In areas like Crown Point, there is a strong possibility to develop your own opportunities,” said Tre Manchester, a former Crown Point resident and the film’s writer/director/co-producer.

Manchester said cities, such as Crown Point can fill a niche in the film industry. He would like to see Cerulean build its film office in the city and create that infrastructure that would help more films get produced locally in the future.

Technology is changing the face of filmmaking. Once dominant film production locations New York and Los Angeles are losing ground to cities like Atlanta, which was No. 1 in film production last year and Louisiana, which was No. 1 in 2011. Big production studios are giving way to smaller independent filmmakers who have access to distribution through services such as Netflix and Redbox.

The city of Gary learned that lesson as far back as 1997 when former Mayor Scott King opened the Gary Office of Film and Television as a way to discuss potential economic drivers for the city by capitalizing on its vacant architecture, Ben Clement, the office’s executive director, said.

Gary boasts one of only two film offices in the state along with the Indiana Film Commission. Clement said the city was looking to take advantage of the economic spillover from the $1 billion Chicago film industry and that it has worked.

“We’ve attracted everything from Hollywood films to what is the most of our business, smaller independent films and student films,” Clement said. In the past three years there has been a lot of interest from photographers.

He said the region is popular with filmmakers for several reasons.

“We are user-friendly. We will bend over backward to welcome filmmakers and understand what they are looking for,” Clement said, noting the proximity to Chicago and the wide variety of film locations from abandoned buildings to farmhouses.

Manchester said that as a Chicago film student commuting back and forth he had few local opportunities for work in his field. Once he made the decision to develop a film locally he found a network of other local artists through, many of whom were tapped for the production.

“It was difficult for me to have to try and drive for work,” he said. “While I was in school I made the decision I wanted to bring a project here.”

Crown Point Mayor David Uran said while the city does not actively recruit films, it is fun when it happens.

“To me it is kind of cool to see Crown Point in the credits,” Uran said.

Having the movie film in the city creates opportunities for residents and students in Crown Point High School’s drama program to earn experience as an extra, he said. It also creates opportunities for people to come and see the effort.

“To me it’s a tourism item,” Uran said.

Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said the economic impact of a film being shot in the area may be minor but it is good to have “bragging rights.”

“It absolutely does get people talking about the destination,” Batistatos said.

Films including “Public Enemy,” shot in Crown Point, “Transformers III,” shot in Gary, and “Four Friends,” the 1981 Steve Tesich coming-of-age film shot in East Chicago and Whiting, provide a little boost to the local economy in the money those involved in the production may spend locally, he said. For “Public Enemy,” local antique stores were likely scoured for period appropriate props and there was some spending in restaurants and bars.

Until the area starts talking about making investments in production studios where filming on sets and for green screen can take place, the economic impact of film production in the area will be nominal, Batistatos said.

There are other investment priorities for the community that would have a more direct economic impact such as a sports complex or convention center, but there could be some sort of future in film, he said.

“The serious optimism there … is there are more inventive filmmakers working on smaller budgets and getting into different kinds of communities,” he said. “Destinations like ours have more opportunities to participate.”

Carrie Napoleon is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

Comments are closed.