Film, Television Production Thriving in Iowa

Published: Feb. 28, 2016 at 9:18 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Seven years ago, the Iowa Film Office, part of Iowa's Department of Economic Development, became embroiled in a multi-million dollar tax fraud case. Several filmmakers and Iowa officials in charge of the film office were found guilty of abusing tax incentives originally meant to attract film productions to the state.

If 2009's Iowa Film Office scandal was a big box office drag with a sad ending, think of this as its happier - and more successful - sequel.

"Fast forward to 2013, and Produce Iowa opened in the Department of Cultural Affairs," said Liz Gilman, executive director at Produce Iowa. Gilman said she acts as an ambassador to filmmakers and production companies, both large and small. She gave us a tour of the State Historical Museum's "Hollywood in the Heartland" exhibit, detailing the film industry's storied past in Iowa.

"When people call, for instance, like when The Bachelor came and shot here in our state, they first contacted me, and then I put together a team of people to help them," Gilman explained. "It's all about television, the internet, the whole industry has changed so much and it's actually a very exciting time for filmmakers and media producers right now."

She said their presence in Iowa has only gotten stronger since 2009.

Cedar Rapids native Adam Orton is one of those filmmakers, who decided to come back and create something here after attending college in Chicago. He directed The Summerland Project, which tells a story of the moral dilemmas associated with artificial intelligence, and what it means to be human.

"The amount of support and interest we've had from people, and local businesses and communities; it's been exciting to see peoples' reactions and get peoples' help for making something like this," Orton told us.

He shot about 95 percent of the movie in Iowa, with some pickup shots in Los Angeles. Aside from some members of the main cast, Orton told us just about all of the extras in the film are from Iowa. He said the response his crew got for open casting calls is proof Iowans are excited to be a part of the process.

"People definitely want to support artists here, and people jump at the opportunity to do something creative like that," Orton explained.

There are no longer any tax incentives available to filmmakers or producers in Iowa, but Orton believes there are other benefits to working here.

"A lot of film productions are finding that places outside of Los Angeles, just in general, are cheaper," said Orton.

Gilman said production companies are also on the lookout for big, Iowa-centric events that provide unique opportunities. The Iowa Caucuses are one recent example.

"That played a backdrop for a lot of other productions. We had Showtime here; they were filming an episode of The Circus, we had Hulu you never know what you're going to see in Iowa," Gilman told us. She added that Iowa's small towns, rolling hills, and farm fields are another attraction for location scouts. They're showcased in baseball films like 2007's The Final Season, and perhaps most famously, Field of Dreams. "When Kevin Costner was here last summer and I got to talk to him, and asked him, 'why do people film here?' And he said the light. He said, 'you can't replicate this light, this natural beauty and the natural light we have here.'"

Orton said a revival of tax credit incentives - like the ones being offered in cities like Atlanta, Georgia, would likely attract more large-scale, big-budget films, but he believes encouraging films on a cultural level is more important.

"It's not about saving people money," Orton said. "It's about growing the community that's here."

Orton says he and his crew are less than a month away from wrapping up the Summerland Project, as they wrap up sound mixing and color finishing.