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Dean Hollingsworth, MCT/Dallas Morning News

Minnesota Film and TV woos movies

  • Article by: JOHN RASH
  • Star Tribune
  • July 20, 2012 - 9:41 PM

Action!

A director's cue? Sure. But it also describes Minnesota Film and TV. As the nation's only film commission that isn't a government agency but a public-private partnership, it's constantly in action, trying to encourage more production in Minnesota.

Thursday, for instance, it held a fundraiser attended by Minnesotan Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell in "Mad Men."

"As a young actor, I wouldn't have had the opportunities to be in pretty big films if it hadn't been for the Film Board going out and hustling up the work," Kartheiser said.

Some of those pretty big films are among the many movies that have been shot here. But compared with theater, publishing, public radio, music, marketing and other arts, film and TV production isn't as prominent in Minnesota.

We're missing out on commerce as well as culture. Moviemakers boost local economies, which is why 41 states stalk productions with often-robust subsidies.

Minnesota's version: The "Snowbate," which reimburses 15 to 20 percent of production costs incurred locally. In tough times, that may sound spendy. But with only $200,000 in funding -- the lowest of any state -- it's matinee-priced compared with the $420 million that New York offers, according to Lucinda Winter, executive director of Minnesota Film and TV.

The Snowbate is just one of the issues identified in "Minnesota's Film and TV Future: Cultivating a Healthy Ecosystem," a recently released study by the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Due to the industry's complexity, and rapid adaptations of technology, the study smartly refrains from identifying fixed tactics.

But it does say that increased international visibility and integration into the vibrant local arts community are crucial. Among its strategic recommendations are strengthening the Snowbate; building a production studio, and investing in a film festival and education.

"It's a four-legged stool -- we need all of them in order to truly have a sustainable industry here," said Winter. She added that the education leg should include a four-year degree program in film production.

Hafed Bouassida, a professor at the two-year Cinema Production program at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, agrees. Most programs don't focus on production, and "at the end of the day, this is an art and a craft. ... And a cinema-studies degree with some components of production -- that training isn't enough to prepare specialists -- cinematographers, screenwriters, producers, directors, editors -- of tomorrow."

Bouassida's right: Education has always been Minnesota's best bet, and is needed to react to -- or create -- film innovations.

In the meantime, Winter says that plowing more investment into the Snowbate "would have a dramatic impact in six months."

Edina native Jim Burke, producer of "The Descendants," agreed.

"Other states offer pretty significant incentives for filmmakers to come, because they see it as a big boost," Burke said from Los Angeles. But, realizing states are strapped, he cautioned, "You can't get into an arms race."

Rather, like a practical Minnesotan, Burke said, "You can encourage your screenwriters to write stories that are set there, and make Minnesota a character in the film."

Kartheiser, who hopes to shoot a movie in Minnesota next year, agrees. "It's all about homegrown," he said. "It comes from people writing stories about this area. It comes from people falling in love with this place."

That's what happened with "The Descendants," which was an odds-on Oscar favorite before being eclipsed by "The Artist." Hawaii was as much a star as George Clooney was.

"We were asked, 'Why not go to Florida or Louisiana, where you'll get a better incentive?'" Burke said. "And the answer was because it would wreck the movie."

And one Minnesota movie may inspire another, like "The Mighty Ducks" sequels. Or, in Burke's case, a "teeny-weeny little movie" he'll shoot here this fall: "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter," about a young Japanese woman who Burke calls "a little touched, not all there."

Obsessed over "Fargo," she comes to Minnesota to find the money Steve Buscemi's character buried in a snowfield. The Minnesotans she meets are "very nice, and don't tell her she's crazy, even though she is."

In other words, Minnesota Nice. Which can't be captured in Hawaii.

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John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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