Arkansas is far from rivaling Hollywood as a movie location, but organizations and cities around the state, including south Arkansas, are working to attract out-of-state filmmakers and encourage those already here.
Money and services provided by the Arkansas Film Commission play a large role, but film producers note other incentives such as the landscape and willingness of local businesses to help.
The growing number of film festivals throughout the state attracts producers to Arkansas and offers a platform for local talent, said Jules Taylor, actor, faculty member at Arts Live Theatre and a board member for the Fayetteville Film Festival.
The Bentonville Film Festival, which kicked off May 2, is one of the newest and largest. Trevor Drinkwater, chief executive officer of ARC Entertainment, partnered with Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis and her Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to create the annual event in 2015.
Advocates have said their efforts should result in more major movies made in the Natural State. If so, Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade and Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey, won't be the last feature films Arkansas is known for.
Arkansas was the first in the U.S. to enact a statewide film incentive when it provided a 5 percent rebate on film production in 1983.
In recent years the state has done its part to encourage movie making with the formation of the Arkansas Film Commission, which helps incoming filmmakers take advantage of a 20 percent rebate on related goods and services and an additional 10 percent payroll costs for all Arkansas workforce. Some Arkansas cities, such as Eureka Springs, also offer incentives.
The commission helps producers find investors, film locations, coordinate with municipalities for road closings and find the necessary equipment. Its services vary because each movie is different.
"We help with the whole encompassing production, with everything they need, and it's different dependent on the production," Arkansas Film commissioner Christopher Crane said. "All kinds of things come into play, whether they're traveling here and need housing, if they're bringing in people, if they need flights for people's schedules to meet up or if their wardrobes are in period piece and need a place to house all that."
The application for state incentives is free, but the production company must spend $200,000 within six months of production to qualify. Crane said he received four applications for movie productions during a two-week period in April.
"We get applications all the time," Crane said. "The process can be long and arduous to get funded and approved."
The production team of Greater, the 2016 movie about former Razorback football player Brandon Burlsworth, who was a first-team All-American and drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, first met with the commission in 2007. Antiquities, a major motion picture filmed in central Arkansas starring Mary Steenburgen, is the most recent production to make it through the process and will be released this year.
The commission also works to grow the film industry within the state.
"It helps with retention of our best and brightest to make sure the content developers and makers who are here have the ability to work and live in a place they love," Crane said.
Gary Newton, executive producer of Antiquities, worked with Crane in past years to help get film-making incentives passed and created a production company with partners Graham Gordy and Daniel Campbell in Arkansas.
"We applied that same philosophy, we wanted to create something that could be successful here and put Arkansans to work," Newton said. "The first step was completing a first feature, and we did that in the fall."
Arkansans comprised more than two-thirds of the Antiquities cast, which totaled 81 employees and 18 full-time student interns from crew training programs at Southern Arkansas University Tech in Camden. Its expenditures qualified as low budget by Screen Actors Guild, a category defined as between $200,000 to $700,000.
Newton said the Arkansas Film Commission was instrumental in securing locations for the film to be shot in Eureka Springs, near the Buffalo River, Hot Springs, Little Rock and North Little Rock. Those arrangements included special requests such as closing streets and shooting at the state fair after hours.
Jennica Schwartzman, an actress out of Hollywood and co-founder of Purpose Pictures Productions, said the Northwest Arkansas region has a lot to offer filmmakers. She and husband, Ryan, who was raised in Winslow, have filmed three movies in the area, including Gordon Family Tree in 2012, The Man in the Trunk in 2014, and Parker's Anchor in 2016. Schwartzman also produced a three-part documentary series about making films in Arkansas, which aired on Fayetteville Public Access television.
"It ended up working out that everything about the area would be great for us," Schwartzman said. "We met lots of enthusiastic people, there was a good business base for the (Fayetteville Film) festival and beautiful locations."
Schwartzman initially came to Northwest Arkansas to submit some short films in the Fayetteville Film Festival, which was then Offshoot Film Fest.
Purpose Pictures garnered $3,000 in business support for its first Arkansas-based production, including in-kind donations of food and clothing for the set. The company was given extreme discounts on lodging for its second Arkansas production and securing film locations was easy, Schwartzman said. A total of 42 businesses sponsored the most recent production.
"The benefits far outweighed the obstacles," she said. "The in-kind sponsors make it possible to film at all. I love where I live, but when you film in L.A., it looks like L.A. In Northwest Arkansas, you have more options of what it can look like."
The landscape's lush vegetation and seasons, along with business support make it possible for Schwartzman to hire a larger film crew, using many crew members from the area. It also enables her to pay movie talent more, rather than undercutting their pay to account for travel expense, she said. Often the biggest challenge is finding actors who aren't tied to Los Angeles with television work and convincing them to travel to Arkansas.
Arkansas' topography, growing infrastructure, friendly and cooperative population, new organizations and large offering of film festivals make it an advantageous place to film, Crane said.
The growing number of film festivals in the state lures producers to Arkansas and provide a platform for Northwest Arkansas talent.
The first two years of the Bentonville Film Festival weren't particularly amenable to Arkansas film-making talent. The Date, a two-minute microshort film directed by Chase Goforth and written and produced by locals Mark Landon Smith and Jules Taylor won its category at the 2015 festival's 10X10 event. The contest invited known film industry professionals to participate in creating commercials for sponsors. Contestants were first judged on its storyboard before proceeding to the filming.
Taylor said her team was one of only two Arkansas groups she was aware of in the festival.
"The first year there was nothing local at all, but the second year seemed to incorporate more local flavor," Taylor said. "There's a nice local tie-in this year more than we've had, which is exciting."
This year's Bentonville Film Festival features three films with Arkansas connections: Parker's Anchor, Painted Woman and Nosh: Bite Size Adventures. The screening for Parker's Anchor sold out in less than a week, which Taylor hopes will show festival organizers incorporating more local content could be successful.
Drinkwater said the increase in Northwest Arkansas film-making talent this year was a combined effort of festival organizers reaching out to more Arkansans as well as Arkansans taking the initiative to enter their submissions. About 600 films were submitted to the Bentonville Film Festival this year, which is double the number from 2016.
"We're proud of the local community's content creation," Drinkwater said. "It's been great to see them produce work."
Drinkwater said a few new initiatives, which will be announced soon, may draw even more Northwest Arkansas talent to the festival's pool.
Taylor said involvement in Northwest Arkansas film festivals helps cultivate a knowledge for outside filmmakers to enter Arkansas communities with the intent to make films. She was the Fayetteville Film Festival executive director and remains a board member.
"The festival made connections with L.A. filmmakers," Taylor said. "Our community is wonderful and hospitable, there are so many people who want to help, plus the beauty of the area and amenities help."
Film website FilmFreeway designated the Fayetteville Film Festival as a top 100 festival because of its continued attendance growth by a third each year. Taylor said the arrival of the Bentonville Film Festival helped foster awareness of the Fayetteville Film Festival and the region's industry.
Northwest Arkansas' film festivals inspired collaboration among Eureka Springs, Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. Regional film commission FilmNWA formed from the five cities' Advertising and Promotion commissions two years ago to promote economic development by expanding the region's film and entertainment industry.
"We want to create a seamless approach for producers and directors, people in the area wanting to shoot film, to not have to go to five different cities to get details," said vice president Kalene Griffith, who is also president and CEO of Visit Bentonville. "So they have a one-stop shop. They will be able to go to one and get all the information they need to do a film."
The organization, still in its infancy, is working to create an inventory of ideal filming locations, permits required by each city and businesses offering discounts, incentives or services filmmakers commonly need, such as makeup artists and lumber companies that can build film sets.
On Bentonville's list of top filming locations is its downtown square, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, various trail locations, but other cities could be very general or specific in their list, Griffith said.
Curating lists of workers in the creative industries is much more complicated, Griffith said, because they may not have a physical location for their services.
Crane agreed, saying the state still needs more brick-and-mortar film studios and other places for the physical production aspects, as well as an increased number of angel investors and money.
Amber Lindley, a Northwest Arkansas-based screenwriter and film producer, said much of her movie-making needs are dependent on storyline. Her most recent production, Painted Woman, was filmed in Guthrie, Oklahoma, because the little town had historical buildings, few modern things and streets they could easily modify for an old-West feel.
A town that's familiar with the demands of a movie set and groups such as the Oklahoma state film office provide the help she needs for production.
"We try to find the locations that will match the story you're trying to tell," Lindley said. "More important than that is logistically, is this location a possibility? (Because) I'm probably bringing 150 people or more to it."
Lindley said securing a location to film in Arkansas is simple because so many people are friendly, accommodating and have an open curiosity about film making.
"You can walk into a place and talk to them a bit and in five minutes be able to film there," she said. "In Arkansas, the resources everybody pulls together and the enthusiasm shows that they want to see more films being made."