On the set of the 2022 film “White Noise” in Cleveland. (Courtesy Angela Boehm Casting)
SOURCE: The Land | Christina Easter
February 7, 2023
Northeast Ohio has a starring role when it comes to choosing a location to make a blockbuster movie, thanks to a growing list of film industry experts who keep their talents in Cleveland. The Greater Cleveland Film Commission, Angela Boehm casting agency, sound engineer and Oscar Academy member Marlowe Taylor, Cleveland State University, and Cuyahoga Community College are among the many entities preparing locals to work on made-in-The-Land movies.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, as Moviemaker Magazine ranked Cleveland 12 out of 25 best places to live and work as a filmmaker in 2022. This was up two places from 2021 when the city was ranked 14th after $106.6 million of the $190 million spent on film production in Ohio was spent in Cleveland.
A few of the films made in the area during the last couple of years include LeBron James’ biopic “Shooting Stars” in Cleveland, Akron, and around Northeast Ohio; “White Noise” in Cleveland and around Northeast Ohio; and “Judas and the Black Messiah” in Cleveland and Mansfield. The Greater Cleveland Film Commission says even more production could be brought to Ohio – and Cleveland in particular – if the state’s tax incentive cap were removed.
The Lakeview Cemetery dam appeared in “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” (Photo by Bill Garvey, Greater Cleveland Film Commission)
Advocating for Cleveland filmmaking
Movie producers and studios choose Northeast Ohio due in part to the advocacy work of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission (the Commission), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to attract, educate, and advocate for film production and build an artistic infrastructure in Northeast Ohio. In late September, Cleveland City Council authorized the Director of Economic Development to renew the Commission’s $250,000 annual grant to support economic development in the movie industry here in Cleveland.
“During the year, the film commission sifts through the 4,000 projects that are in development at any one time to find the ones that would be successful here,” Bill Garvey, president of the Commission, told The Land. “We also cultivate relationships with producers and studios by bringing them here, scouting filming locations, and taking pictures – which is a full-time job and expensive.”
Garvey was appointed president of the Commission in October 2021, after years of traveling to scout locations for films as a locations manager. Growing up, Garvey was a movie buff, so while in college at University of Notre Dame he took one of the few film courses offered. This was the same time the movie “Rudy” was being filmed on campus, and the professor got the director to do a lecture for the class.
“Here was a professional movie buff sitting in front of me telling me he made his living working on a career he loved,” said Garvey. “A light bulb went on and I had an epiphany to do something that I loved. So, I haven’t looked back and 26 years later, I have a career in the movie industry.”
Garvey and his four-person staff are making Cleveland a moviemaking destination by showcasing the city’s architecture and chameleon-like features which can be adapted to suit the creative expectations of producers looking for a film home. Garvey also says the Commission is laser-focused on teaching high school and college students every aspect of filmmaking such as screenwriting, cinematography, special effects, post-production, lighting, and camera.
“There are hundreds of jobs on a movie set but everyone only knows about directors, actors, and maybe the writer,” said Garvey. “We are fortunate to have a very capable crew base in Cleveland with amazing people doing amazing work that have agreed to help us teach. We have filmmakers who have won Emmys and are part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars Academy).”
Native Clevelander and sound editor Marlowe Taylor on set. (Courtesy Marlowe Taylor)
Supporting and growing film production expertise in Cleveland
A robust local infrastructure of skilled production professionals is key in attracting film projects. Marlowe Taylor says that for more movies to come to Cleveland, studios and producers have to know that we have “A1 people” in key roles like camera, props, set decorations, and sound. Taylor, a Cleveland-based sound engineer, is known for his work on “Alex Cross” (2012), “The Kings of Summer” (2013), “Queen and Slim” (2019), and “The Marksman” (2021).
Taylor was a DJ while in high school but quickly learned about audio engineering after a singer offered to pay him $25 to record her voice on a loop so she could rap over it. He went on to graduate with a bachelor of arts degree in audio and a masters of fine arts from Ohio University. Taylor also started his own music studio, and rappers from across the country came to Cleveland to record their songs. When Taylor began doing sound for movies, he chose to focus on movies as his “Mauly sound” became more in demand.
“I am a person from Cleveland, die-hard Clevelander, been here my whole life, and I made it work all the way through being inducted in the Oscar Academy last year,” Taylor said. “I am proof that it can be done here.”
Training opportunities in film production are now more available in Cleveland than they were when Taylor was starting out. In October 2018, Cleveland State University completed construction of its School of Film & Media Arts funded in part by a $7.5 million grant from the State of Ohio. The facility is located in The Idea Center at Playhouse Square and has adaptable film production studios, digital editing bays, high-tech teaching labs, and smart classrooms, according to the school’s website.
Tri-C’s film academy has a film intensive training course that was developed by the Commission and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE Local 209) to teach students the skills needed to be a film and media technician and crew member.
Taylor believes that more work can be done: boosting film in schools for the arts, and encouraging students to participate in Angela Boehm and Lillian Pyles casting programs, college film programs, and Greater Cleveland Film Commission workshops.
Angela Boehm started Angela Boehm Casting 10 years ago. “Our studio is in Great Northern Mall and people walk past it not knowing that we are casting people to act opposite of Hanks,” Boehm said. “And I don’t think people realize the amount of money a film being produced in Cleveland brings to the city.”
Boehm recalls production companies that rented a shaved ice truck and coffee truck during filming of “Shooting Stars”; the opening of a tab at Starbucks and Quiznos during filming of “Captain America”; the rental of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame by the filmmaker Russo brothers for a party during filming of “Cherry”; and the purchase of Indians tickets for crew members of one film.
“They are supporting our city and this is just a glimpse of the funds coming in from these films,” Boehm said. “This excludes the hotels they are using and costumes they buy for all of their principal and background cast.”
Boehm remembers when one production would come and then it would be a year or two before another would come. She also remembers when local “extras” were not prepared when they arrived for casting sessions and people overall just didn’t get it. “But this has changed,” Boehm said.
This photo of Scranton Road in the Flats is part of the film commission’s portfolio of images of Cleveland that demonstrate the range of settings available here. (Photo by Bill Garvey, Greater Cleveland Film Commission)
Advocating for a change in Ohio tax law to attract even more filming
Although more than 300 productions have been filmed in Ohio since 2007, and passage of the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit (OMPTC) in 2009 has resulted in the state receiving $1.2 billion in economic impact and over 7,000 jobs, the Commission is advocating that more be done. The Commission says that to take Ohio’s media industry to the next level, the tax incentive must be increased and rolling application periods be adopted (currently, there are tax credit application windows that close, discouraging some productions on a tight timeline from filming in Ohio).
Although nearly $170 million in movie production costs was spent in the state in 2021, $224.5 million was turned away because of the current $40 million cap, Garvey told city council in the fall, and 2022 was showing a similar trend. Removal of the cap and the resulting increase in filming could also affect other economic prospects, such as construction of a permanent soundstage in Cleveland and full-time, year-round employment for more locals in the film industry, he suggested.
Ward 6 Councilman and council president Blaine Griffin expressed concern that a biopic of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony may be filmed in another state which doesn’t have a cap on its tax incentive. “We believe that the movie of our hometown kids should be done in Cleveland,” Griffin said. “But because of the window and the cap, there is a potential that the movie will be made in another state.”
Last year in May, Senate Bill 341 (SB 341) was introduced to the State Senate, House Ways and Means Committee to request modification of the OMPTC, and removal of the cap in particular. “The bill is currently working its way through the process of being passed but it will take a moment to get there,” said Garvey, who doesn’t know when the process will move forward. “It’s on the agenda, and we will be vocal.”
“It’s hard when you’re on and off of work, but if the incentive passes, we’re just going to be able to do what we love and work full-time,” casting director Boehm said. “Right now, we have to get everyone’s skillset together because there will be an onslaught of work, and we will have to be able to handle the load.” If Cleveland isn’t ready, she says, productions will bring out-of-state professionals to do the work.
CHRISTINA EASTER is a freelance writer in Cleveland who participated in The Land’s community journalism program.