Filmmakers working to bring studio to Dubuque

“We don’t have to go to Hollywood. Don’t have to go anywhere else. You can build a star here.”
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 7:35 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - “We don’t have to go to Hollywood. Don’t have to go anywhere else. You can build a star here,” Will Martel, owner of Dragon Whip Entertainment, said.

That is Martel’s dream for Dubuque — to build an all-inclusive film studio. He says his visit to Tyler Perry Studios in 2008 inspired him to bring Perry’s playbook to Iowa.

“We could use construction people to build sets, we could use welders,” Martel said. “It would be artists no longer having to run to L.A. to become an actor or going to places like New York to realize their dream.”

He says his biggest challenge is getting the city on board with the plan.

“Those things have been have been kind of hard, but I think belief, and you know if you push at something long enough, it actually breaks through,” Martel said.

But he says it won’t deter him from his goal of inspiring the next generation of filmmakers, like Dubuque-native Clint Heiberger. He works with Martel at Dragon Whip Entertainment.

“I always thought about [going in the industry] ever since I was growing up,” Heiberger said.

He’s making his directorial debut with his upcoming film “Blind Faith.” It’s one of two films Heiberger and Martel are set to shoot in Dubuque this summer.

“Right now the seeds we’re planting is this double-feature,” Heiberger said.

Produce Iowa is also working to bring more productions to the state. Leaders say they get requests almost everyday from producers wanting to film in Iowa.

“They want to come in hire our Iowans on their crews and they want to spend money here on production,” Liz Gilman, film commissioner with Produce Iowa, said. “It’s pretty amazing the amount of projects that are happening here and we don’t give out [a tax] incentive.”

Iowa lost its tax incentive that made it cheaper to film here 2009. That’s after the Iowa Film Office was connected to a multi-million dollar tax fraud case.

Martel says the industry is slowing bouncing back — but says a studio could make it stronger than ever.

“We’re just in the early stages,” Martel said. “I mean about a year or two, two three to five years from now, I think it’ll be huge.”

Bringing Hollywood to Iowa, one dream at a time.