I happen to be a big film buff who has written a few un-produced screenplays over the years. In fact, for the first time in over a decade I actually submitted a short script to this contest sponsored by ScreenCraft, an outfit out of Los Angeles that has a big presence on Twitter. So, the idea of going to one of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission’s mixers is not entirely foreign to me. However, I never went to something like this.
The mixer was held April 29th starting at six in the evening in Ohio City. McNulty’s Bier Market, which is where it was located, is a pretty nice establishment with a lot of money put into the old building it’s located in. For some dumb reason, I kept thinking this would be a set fitting for a Sex in the City episode; which was probably because four ladies were sitting in a booth enjoying drinks next to the event’s sign in table. The woman who signed everyone in told me that they usually get between 150 and 200 people at these mixers. I commented that was a lot of people for such a small room. She smiled and added that they better find larger places.
Ivan Schwartz, President and CEO of the Commission, did not look like what I imagined him. He was a big tall guy with glasses and longish gray hair who was engaged in talking with people near the door. When I was ready to go, I squeezed into the room and introduced myself to him. He smiled, shook my hand, and I let him go back to his conversation.
There was paraphernalia by people promoting themselves. One was from a guy who wants to be a “personal film school” consultant. Others were more mundane. Be it a Film Commission mixer, Northeast Ohio Society of Technical Communication (NEORC) luncheon, or an Association of Fundraising Professionals’ seminar, there are always people trying to work the room.
Despite all the noise in the bar, I couldn’t make out much of what people were saying. The only thing that came close to a regular conversation was with the woman signing us in, the bartenders taking my order, and one guy sitting on a red sofa in the corner as I apologize for cutting through to avoid this group of four people talking away right near the entrance blocking anyone from getting further into the room. Face it, when you go to any organization’s activities for the first time, you most likely never met anyone there before; and they didn’t know you either.
The space was too small for everyone to be in there. By the time I was thinking of leaving, the stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers’ classic A Night at the Opera kept popping in my head.
In fact, the longest conversation I had there was when I was about to enter McNulty’s. Stepping out of there was Cleveland Housing Court Judge Raymond Pianka and his wife Karen. Until recently, she happened to be the Secretary for the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party and I just saw her last weekend at an Executive Committee meeting. For a good ten minutes at least, the three of us talked about the Housing Court, my councilman, what is going on with the Executive Committee lists, and why I was stopping over there. While our topics were different from what I guess was discussed inside at the mixer, we were all just as animated as all those strangers I encountered only a few minutes later.
There have definitely been some big budgets films shooting in Cleveland, and I’ve heard enough complaints from coworkers who couldn’t use the West Shoreway when the folks shooting Captain America were in town to prove it. However, the long-term benefits, or this city’s sustaining any foothold in the motion picture industry is questionable if it weren’t for tax incentives. This is something that many Rust Belt states have tried to do and there is no magic bullet. As Mark Binelli wrote in his book Detroit City is the Place to be regarding a similar attempt to lure Hollywood to Michigan and Detroit in particular, “the opposition contended the public and its legislators had been dazzled by the glamour of a fickle industry that would bolt as soon as American Samoa managed to slap together an even more generous package of tax breaks.” (pg. 259) Once Michigan governor Rick Snyder phased out the tax incentives, so did the movie industry.
Yet, if you read the Film Commission’s website at least, NE Ohio has received some direct benefits from all of this, to the tune of $300 million and some jobs have been created. Ohio still offers a nice film tax incentive package it seems and I guess the man who probably wants to run for President has no plans to phase them out like his colleague did up in Michigan. So, one of these days, perhaps Cleveland State University will come out with another study showing where this is all going.
As for me, I’ve just got as much out of the Film Commission event as I would any American Planning Association function, except the thing at McNulty’s was lot better for the wallet. Perhaps some may know me better another time.
Photographs taken by the author.