Nebraska, Philly, Bay Area boast filmmakers, stars

Amid the jockeying of film commissions for productions and the fight for funds, some commissions have found a secret weapon: homegrown talent that serves as a capital investment.

Helmer Alexander Payne is considered Nebraska’s golden boy, shooting his three features, “Citizen Ruth,” “Election” and “About Schmidt,” on location solely in Omaha and his surrounding home state.

For his part, helmer M. Night Shyamalan (“Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs”) prefers to stay close to home in Philadelphia so he can be with his family. “I don’t know how (other filmmakers) can be away for six months at a time,” he told Daily Variety.

In spite of the loss of projects to Canada, Philadelphia is busier than ever, reports Sharon Pinkenson, exec director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. The city has an impressive film lineage that includes “Philadelphia,” “The Age of Innocence,” “12 Monkeys” and “Beloved.” Pinkenson says that having Shyamalan firmly ensconced “adds to the overall industry understanding that Philadelphia serves as a production center for Night’s high-profile, big-budget movies. Therefore, we have the resources and experience to support other productions.”

Philadelphia also is home to the Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez starrer “Jersey Girl” and CBS’ “Hack” after it turned its convention center and two city-owned warehouses into municipally run fee-free soundstages.

Bay Area boom

“There are more people working in the film industry in the Bay Area now than in the past 30 years,” reports David Hakim, a rep for the Bay Area Film Alliance in San Francisco.

That can be explained by the growth of the computer graphics industry contributing to a strong post-production community with Industrial Light & Magic, Pixar and Phil Tippett attracting people from all over the country to their Bay Area studios.

And like Shyamalan, S.F. boasts its own patron saints of film with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. Favorite son Philip Kaufman (“The Right Stuff,” “Quills”), with son Paul, recently lensed the Paramount/Kopelson Ent. thriller “Blackout” throughout the city.

And then, adds Hakim, there is Marsha Williams, who helps keep resident thesp and husband Robin Williams on the San Fran streets with projects such as “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Patch Adams” and “What Dreams May Come.”

Having a local celeb isn’t the only means to hook film production. Winston-Salem’s North Carolina School of the Arts graduates filmmakers yearly — the hook being they won’t forget where they learned their craft.

“Most certainly, having a film school and its alumni in Hollywood — and elsewhere — is valuable to the state’s program and industry,” says N.C. State Film Office director Bill Arnold.

Perhaps the most recent evidence of that can be seen with David Gordon Green, a student of the N.C. school of filmmaking, who helmed “George Washington” and came back to the mountains of Asheville to do “All the Real Girls,” a Sundance success picked up by Sony.

“While, initially, the theory is that film school graduates will go on to become big-time players in the industry and return to the state with major projects, we’re finding it also works well even before that. Film school students are filming in the streets long before they leave school, boosting local awareness of the business, keeping activity alive even at slow times, and adding immensely to the creative mix that is good for the industry,” Arnold says.

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