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Copyright 1998 Plain Dealer Publishing Co.  
The Plain Dealer

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March 25, 1998 Wednesday, FINAL / ALL


LENGTH: 1056 words



The Man of Steel was created by two guys from Cleveland, but Pittsburgh - not Cleveland - will play Metropolis in "Superman Lives," to be filmed this summer with Nicholas Cage in the starring role.

In the business of film-production, Northeast Ohio is still mild-mannered Clark Kent.

However, the new Greater Cleveland Media Development Corp. is angling for economic development by cultivating the area as a choice place to shoot movies, television features, commercials and other video productions.

"We're never going to be a New York or a Hollywood," said GCMDC President Chris Carmody, "but we should be able to match - or beat - a Pittsburgh or a Philadelphia."

Carmody is raising a $250,000 budget to fund the operation, with hopes of garnering another $100,000 for a training program so film producers have more home-grown talent to choose from.

The 2-month-old, not-for-profit film commission snared a $75,000 grant from the George Gund Foundation earlier this month. Cuyahoga County commissioners have also budgeted $50,000 for the venture in their 1998 operating expenses.

Requests for $50,000 from the city of Cleveland's economic development department, $50,000 from the Cleveland Foundation and $25,000 from the Murphy Foundation are pending.

As for the potential return on investment, Carmody uses comparable cities as a benchmark.

The Pittsburgh Film Office, for example, has generated more than $190 million - or an annual average of $27 million - since its founding in 1990, estimated Director Dawn M. Keezer. The Pittsburgh area boasts 15 made-for-TV movies and 28 feature films in the last seven years, including the 1991 blockbuster "The Silence of the Lambs."

Likewise, Connie Redwine, project administrator of the Greater Cincinnati Film Commission, estimated the organization has drawn $43 million and 20,000 jobs in its 10 years (using the formula that a $60 million production generates up to $3 million for the local economy).

Although much of the Cincinnati commission's work involves local filmmakers, commercials and in-house corporate marketing and training films, recent credits also include "Rain Man," "Little Man Tate" and "The Mighty," a new Sharon Stone movie due out this fall.

Film-generated investment ranges from hiring local actors and carpenters and electricians for a construction crew to spending money on hotel rooms, rental cars and trucks, restaurants, dry cleaners and lumber yards for building materials.

"Why do they get more business? It's because they're organized, they're very aggressive and they make it easy to use their town," said Carmody, 30, a St. Ignatius High School and Oberlin College graduate who formerly worked in Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White's administration.

While there are no comparable statistics specifically for Cleveland, the Ohio Film Commission estimates it has drawn more than $150 million in business statewide since 1976, including $9 million last year.

The biggest single year was $25 million in 1993, when "The Shawshank Redemption," filmed at the Mansfield Reformatory and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, brought in $14 million and employed about 3,000 people.

In film production, time is money. State and local film commissions scout locations, obtain necessary permits, round up talent and work out other details that can make a location shoot more efficient. Cities that can mobilize quickly and respond to producer's needs in a day or two instead of taking weeks will win every time.

Production companies can lose millions of dollars by not getting access to a certain building they were promised, or by battling traffic tie-ups or not getting the needed security or fire protection for a given shoot because a city hadn't prepared properly.

"What they require is speed - fast decisions and quick access," Carmody said.

The new Cleveland film commission revs up at a time of growing competition for media-related economic development, spurred by an increasing number of feature films produced each year, the expansion of cable TV and the growth in companies using video to market their products and train employees.

Eve Lapolla, manager of the Ohio Film Commission, said there are about 250 state and local film commissions internationally, compared with a dozen when the OFC was created 22 years ago.

"It's because of the economic value that it brings to a community," she said. "It's a clean industry. They come in, spend their money and don't need new highways or schools built for them. It's big business."

Ford Motor Co., for example, can spend $350,000 in two days during a national commercial shoot, Carmody said. More difficult to measure is the exposure that can result when a city or attraction is featured on film. The baseball field built in the middle of an Iowa cornfield for "Field of Dreams" still draws 60,000 tourists a year, for instance.

Over the years, Cleveland has been the site of several films - "A Christmas Story," parts of "The Deerhunter" and "Major League" and recent cameos in "Air Force One" and "The Rain Maker" - but backers of the new venture think the potential is much greater.

Carmody hopes to gain more work through the sprouting local independent film community, and by leveraging Cleveland's large companies for more commercial and industrial-type film shoots.

On a larger scale, feature film producers are looking to steer away from the usual settings of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to make their movies more distinctive and to cut costs.

What Greater Cleveland offers, Carmody believes, is cheaper labor and materials and various locations with a short commute. Production crews can get from Amish country to a big-city skyline to a major amusement park to a lake and riverfront within an hour.

The commission is already getting steady inquiries about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Playhouse Square district and the West Side Market as possible shooting sites.

But film crews won't come around that often, industry experts say, unless there's an organized, knowledgeable group recruiting them in a town that can deliver.

"This business, like any other business, is based on relationships," said Keezer, of the Pittsburgh Film Office. "If you sit around in this day and age and wait for a telephone to ring, it's not going to happen."

GRAPHIC: PHOTO BY SHERRY GAVANDITTI / ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER; Chris Carmody, president of the 2-month-old Greater Cleveland Media Development Corp., said several Northeast Ohio venues - such as the West Side Market - are potential locations for film shoots.

LOAD-DATE: March 26, 1998

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