Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
Over the past several months Fred formed the Youngstown Regional Film Commission. It is a 501-C-3 non-profit corporation whose mission is to assist in the development of the film industry in the Mahoning Valley. In my on and off discussions with Fred, I watched him begin to prioritize the things that needed to be done in order to achieve the goal. This corporation was Item 1 on the list. He did it on his own with the assistance of a local accounting firm. Fred has come of age and the Mahoning Valley should take note. Here are some of the goals that need to be accomplished.
1) Increase tax credits from the State of Ohio for movie and television production. It is currently about $20 million and needs to go up to $80 million. That is the first step in any movie financing project.
2) Spread the tax credit wealth. Most, if not all, of the tax credits have gone to Cleveland. The tax credits available per film need to be properly capped to foster more production, and allocated regionally.
3) Develop a pool of money to be used as a revolving credit fund. The biggest obstacle to movie financing is a “bridge” loan. This is needed to provide short term financing between the implementation of the tax credits and the final financing for the film…all done before production begins. This fund can be used over and over again without the money ever leaving the local bank account. The efficacy of the projects would be monitored by local banks.
4) Develop a regional approach to the project. One of the obstacles to any business coming into the area are the numerous municipalities and townships surrounding Youngstown. These were designed to foster how business was done in 1900. While other metropolitan areas absorbed their smaller political units, (Columbus is the best example), high school loyalties kept them intact in this area. Any movie production company would view this area as a whole, and we have to learn to work together to get it to work.
5) Develop a master list of local resources and suppliers, studios, artisans, union workers, and talent to ake available to anyone wanting to film in the area.
6) Develop an education program for those individuals studying to break into the business, including set and costume designers, production skills, sound skills, and financing skills to feed a growing industry.
To that end, the Film Commission is currently in discussion with the Trumbull Career and Technical Center (TCTC) to establish a course of study providing a broad overview of the technical skills needed to succeed in the film industry. It would include hands on training with professionals brought in who have firsthand knowledge about how these things work. Should these discussions be successful, the length of the completed course would be 8 weeks offered on successive weekends. Upon completion, names would be entered on a master list which would be available to anyone coming into the general area, including Cleveland and Pittsburgh, to do production work.
On Saturday, April 2, from 12:00 - 4:00, three simultaneous events will be held in the area to promote not only these classes, but the film industry generally in the Mahoning Valley. It is designed to give local trade persons, artisans, actors, and anyone generally interested, the opportunity to learn about what will be happening in the area over the next year in film production and what needs to be done to bring the industry here. Speakers will include industry professionals discussing how the the movie industry works. Here are the locations.
Eastwood Mall in Niles: Enter near Firebird Restaurant. Look for signs.
B & O Station in Youngstown: (with JD Eicher performing 12:00 to 1:00)
Days Inn: by the Shale Tavern in Lisbon
There is no cost for this event. Following the program there will be a “Wrap” party from 4 -5. Participants will be given wrist bands entitling them to special discounts at participating restaurants.
Whether the Mahoning Valley is ready for this to happen or not…it is going to happen. Good for the area. Good for Fred. Get more information and sign up for the April 2 event here:
Mark G. Mangie
In a work-a-day world everybody does a little day dreaming. It’s not that our lives are awful…just routine. Periodically we all do the “would’ve could’ve should’ve” thing. We ponder the “what if” then go on with our daily chores. For the most part we live full and happy lives. But every now and then that little voice asks what life would be like if you had followed that crazy dream making your avocation your vocation. But with a spouse and kids and a mortgage…what’s a body to do?
From time to time I have met people who have done just that. They toss caution to the wind and go after that crazy dream and scheme. The dream part is the goal. The scheme part is achieving the goal. It’s not glamourous. It is hard and frustrating and particularly unrewarding monetarily. They get called a lot of names. He’s crazy. He’s a loon or a whack-a-do. But they don’t care. To the dreamers and schemers…it goes with the territory. These are my favorite stories.
Fred D'Amico's mother is a good friend of mine. Several years ago she told me Fred was returning to Youngstown from California and wanted to make movies. She asked if I would talk to him. I agreed, but he had an awful lot to say. I had a list of adjectives to describe him…most of which I can’t print here. Some of the less offensive words were overbearing, super-talker, impatient, overly aggressive…did I mention somewhat obnoxious?
But behind the brusque behavior was a guy with a dream…a true believer. He saw potential in the Mahoning Valley as a place to make movies. The city had character, land, interesting back drops, empty dilapidated buildings suitable for sound studios, a work force, and lots of local color. Most of all, the cost of producing a movie here was 20-40% cheaper than making a movie anywhere else in the United States. Hollywood on the Mahoning. I thought he was nuts!!!! How could he possibly know this stuff?
But over the next few months I came to the realization he wasn’t nuts. He knew the business inside and out. He had 17 years of hands on experience. He was talented and creative. He had that vision thing. He had written scripts. He had acted in movies. He produced a feature film. He understood the mechanics of making a movie right down to sets and costumes. He understood labor relations. Most importantly, he understood the finances of making movies including tax issues which are the lifeblood of the industry. That’s the kind of education you get doing it rather than reading about it.
His goal was not to make movies. His goal was to bring people who want to make movies to Youngstown. He wants a film industry in Youngstown. He would tell anyone who would listen he was the guy who could put it together.
Nothing was going to stand in Fred’s way including dealing with the “powers that be” in the Mahoning Valley. This is an extremely difficult place to get things done for any number of reasons…many of them justified…some not so much. Those in the entertainment industry understand that historically this area has been tough. Back in the Vaudeville days the acts would say if you could make it here you could make it anywhere. And “here” met Youngstown, not New York.
I dropped in and out of Fred’s dream over the next few years. In the process he taught me the nuts and bolts of the business. With glue and paste he brought folks here who were real honest to goodness Hollywood people. These were impressive folks with all of Fred’s drive but half the intensity. The locals ignored them. But these Hollywood folks told me what Fred told me.
It didn’t take me very long to decide that Fred was right. These are achievable goals. It would take lots of time, patience, and dedication. It would also take someone with an inch-thick hide. It is a dirty business.
Fred didn’t disappoint. He endlessly made the rounds selling his vision. As is anyone in the entertainment industry he was pushy and overbearing making as many enemies as friends. But he didn’t give up as he sold this area to all of his connections in the film industry. They would show up. They would be dismissed by local officials with more parochial goals. They would leave, and another batch would show up…over and over and over again.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the future. Fred got religion. He developed some personal relationships which gave him stability. And in the process he did all the right things. Get ready Youngstown. Hollywood on the Mahoning is on the way.
Making Movies in Youngstown