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October 31, 2014

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Film industry strategy for LV questioned

Las Vegas shouldn't build sound stages to attract the film industry. Rather, it should develop a film industry first, the director of the British Columbia Film Commission said.

Peter Mitchell explained that's what happened in Vancouver. As more and more television series began to use British Columbia as a base of operations because of the favorable currency exchange rate and tax credits, it became more logical for them to look for facilities in Vancouver and its suburbs.

"A lot of people tend to think that construction of stages is some kind of way to draw business in and I think that really is a mistake," Mitchell said. "You get all the conditions right to attract production, then you put money into sound stages."

Nevada has seen numerous movies shot during short time periods not requiring extensive permanent facilities.

But Mitchell said major productions requiring a lot of time to shoot will need such facilities.

"If there's 10 or more months of work, film companies will want to make some investment in facilities. It (building sound stages) creates critical mass and actually makes it cheaper and cheaper to come here (to Vancouver)."

Mitchell said local companies taking advantage of some other Canadian government incentive programs were able to build the studios used by Hollywood production companies when they film in Canada.

But some of the proponents of Nevada's film industry disagree with Mitchell's assessment and say it would help Las Vegas to build sound stages now. They suspect that Mitchell doesn't realize how far Nevada has come or how close Nevada already works with Hollywood.

"Studios are a very important element in developing a film industry here," said Jeanne Corcoran, production coordinator for the Nevada Film Office.

Corcoran said the Nevada Film Office is convinced after attending two California trade shows this summer that the time is right for studios to be built to attract business.

But Corcoran said building the studios is only part of the equation. Once built, studio developers have to be committed to a thorough marketing program.

" 'If you build it, they will come,' isn't necessarily true in this case," Corcoran said. "If you build it, they (film producers) will certainly be glad."

Corcoran said Las Vegas already has some small studios and Marilee Lear, who operates Marilee Lear Casting and Lear Entertainment in Las Vegas, is developing a 160,000-square-foot facility at 41 N. Mojave Road with seven sound stages.

The first portion of the three-phase project is expected to be completed this month.

The Entertainment Development Corp. of Las Vegas also is actively pursuing the development of sound stages in the Las Vegas area. The nonprofit organization, led by Mimosa Jones, struck a partnership with the Nevada Development Authority last year.

Motion pictures and their ancillary businesses are among the four primary industries the development authority is pursuing to diversify the local economy.

"Having studios in Las Vegas," Corcoran said, "will make us more powerful and influential."

Bobbi Hughes, Nevada branch executive director of the Screen Actors Guild, agrees.

"We are like Hollywood in the '30s," Hughes said of Las Vegas. "It hasn't been filled up with houses. There are still a lot of large open spaces and a lot of excited people here."

Hughes believes Nevada is close to becoming an important film industry player.

"Nevada is right on the verge of bursting right open," Hughes said. "We're only an hour away from Hollywood instead of a day away (to Vancouver). We have actors and actresses, day players, character actors, extras. The talent is here. If Marilee (Lear) can get some backlot space, that would be the major clincher here."

Hughes said there are only a few more things that can be done "aside from devaluing the U.S. dollar."

"We need a production studio. We have a few tax breaks," Hughes said. "One thing we don't have is a government willing to go out on a limb and be a little more aggressive and creative in helping get these things built. Once you get those (studios), you'll see warehousing and all types of high-tech industry follow.

"Sure, there are some (Hollywood) people who don't like Las Vegas, but they hate Los Angeles too," Hughes said. "(Actor) Antonio Banderas was here for a shoot recently and he thinks Las Vegas is a perfect place for the film industry."

Film industry supporters don't look at British Columbia as the heavy when the issue is raised of U.S. productions leaving for Canada. But industry leaders from across the United States are teaming up to try to keep productions from leaving the country.

Film U.S., a coalition of more than 200 film commissions, was formed about a year ago. Its mission: to develop policies to retain film production jobs in the United States. The Nevada Film Office is a member.

"We shouldn't have to bash Canada," Corcoran said of Film U.S.'s role. "We need to build on our own strengths."

Corcoran said the coalition also plans to speak as a united voice at the federal level, lobbying Congress for policies that would keep the industry from going outside the country.

Corcoran and Hughes concurred that Hollywood doesn't look at Las Vegas' efforts to lure business from California as threatening.

"Whenever California strengthens, the trickle-down generally is good for us," Corcoran said. "They don't have a Las Vegas there. They don't have a Hoover Dam there. We don't have film labs, don't produce dailies (footage directors use in the movie-making process). We're not a threat to them, but a complement to them."

Anna Maria Davis, a Boulder City-based film producer who helped launch the film career of actress Salma Hayek with "Fools Rush In" in 1997, has lived on both sides of the border.

Davis said she moved to Vancouver and lived there for a year after visiting on vacation and liking what she saw. But she changed her mind and moved back to where she was born when she heard about a plan to develop a studio in Henderson by Doris Keating.

Keating has been working for months to develop Black Mountain Studio, but the plan is stalled because of disputes with the city.

"While I was there (in Vancouver), I did some research on the industry," Davis said. "I got to look at the feasibility study for the Bridges Studio up there."

Davis said the Canadian government was very accommodating in allowing her to work in Vancouver, waiving all visa requirements. But in the end, she said she changed her mind about living there because she wanted to return to Nevada.

"I said to myself, 'I'm an American, I should be doing this in America,' " she said.

But she said her study of the Canadian system reinforced her belief that government has to get behind the film industry if it is going to succeed in putting the brakes on runaway production.

"It's the responsibility of the government to create cohesiveness," Davis said.

She's very high on Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt taking office because she said her background in the entertainment industry gives her insight into how government can help show business.

"The film industry is not respected the way it should be," Davis said. "People need to look at the arts as a social science. The power of the media to transform society has been seen in Europe and many countries support the industry because of the effects it has on their communities."

Davis said the industry has plenty to give back to the communities that host it -- taxable exports and exposure that can enhance tourism.

Canada has been a big beneficiary of the industry, but it's difficult to compare how Nevada's film industry stacks up to British Columbia's since the two agencies don't compile data the same way.

Nevada operates on fiscal years; British Columbia is on calendar years. Nevada considers all shoots, including still photography, in its statistics; British Columbia doesn't. Canadian currency has 20 percent less value than U.S. currency.

But some comparisons show Nevada's strengths in the industry. In the 1998-99 fiscal year, Nevada had $79 million in revenues from about 500 productions. British Columbia showed $808 million in revenues on 171 productions in 1998.

Corcoran said the numbers show that Nevada has more short-time productions -- shoots that last less than a week. With production facilities on the horizon, the state hopes to attract some of the companies that now go to British Columbia -- the shoots that last longer and are more financially lucrative.

One of the possible long-term production opportunities: programming for the proposed Vegas Television Network.

The company that developed the E! Entertainment Network has been hired to develop a strategic plan for VTV on behalf of the Greenspun family, owner of the Las Vegas Sun.

Comspan Communications Inc., a leading consulting firm specializing in TV network development, will look into the feasibility of a network that would produce everything from behind-the-scenes looks at Las Vegas entertainment venues to locally based celebrity talk shows and sports gambling telecasts.

Comspan and Greenspun were brought together by the Hollywood producer Tony Oleshansky and the Entertainment Development Corp.

If the concept flies, the city would be assured of having a number of productions based here to provide content for the network.

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