Expanding Arkansas Film Industry Benefits Local Business Community

Film production in Northwest Arkansas has accelerated in the last 10 years through the contributions of local and national production companies.

The film industry positively impacts our economy for dozens of local businesses, including catering, lodging, and transportation. The Arkansas film industry dates back 95 years and employment opportunities grow along with the industry. With over 80 films produced to date, there is a rich history of filmmaking in Arkansas. 

Building the NWA Film Industry

As a Film Production Consultant for the film industry and VP of Business Development for Rockhill Studios in Fayetteville since 2017, Demara Titzer has had the opportunity to play a role in building the Northwest Arkansas film industry. “There is an extensive business side to the film industry that isn’t always obvious,” Titzer said. “It includes developing relationships with and educating our City, Chamber and Rotary teams for location support needs, and collaboration with our local film schools for our student interns. Establishing agreements that support the unique needs of a production company with hotels, locations, caterers, rental car agencies, and product placement vendors requires upfront education, management and coordination throughout the pre-production, principal photography and post-production process so that everyone has a positive and successful experience.” 

“Every film has a different story with different locations, set design, props and product needs,” she added. “Each project starts with reaching out to our partners to support those needs. My goal has been, and continues to be, to build long-term relationships within our business communities to offer opportunities for those who are passionate about filmmaking to be a part of and benefit financially from our growing film industry.”

Boosting Local Business

The economic impact film projects have on our area are significant.  They typically hire an average of 40 cast and crew for their films and around 50 percent are local hires. Cast and crew typically work very hard and long 12-hour days in all types of weather as a production does not stop and the wrap day rarely gets extended.

To keep them fueled, a station is set up for snacks throughout the production. Meals are provided twice a day during two very short 30-minute breaks. That works out to over 800 meals during a 2-week production. Local food vendors, restaurants and catering companies have an opportunity to boost their business revenues by supporting these productions, as do hotels and short-term rentals. An added benefit to local businesses is all the meals and entertainment expenditures during cast and crew days off.

Benefits for Destination Marketing

Visit Rogers, the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for the city and a division of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, welcomes and recognizes the benefits film productions can bring to a destination. “The increased awareness film brings to a destination can be priceless, and we want to provide resources, guidance and assistance to the industry ensuring that awareness is positive. Plus, the economic benefit to our businesses and communities is real, immediate and significant”, said J. R. Shaw, Executive Director of Visit Rogers. “We play the role of convener, facilitator and go-between, putting the industry in touch with locals to bring the business to Rogers.”

Why NWA?

Northwest Arkansas offers wonderful town square backdrops, neighborhoods and landscapes for film scenes. Producers often try to incorporate the town into their story to add an extra layer of authenticity and appreciation to the community that has supported them. The beautiful scenery of our area is also featured through aerials and driving scenes.

Supporting student, emerging and visiting filmmakers is a focus for our city leaders and local film production companies. To produce 4-8 films per year will require an ever-growing pool of experienced crew members to support them. To meet those demands and provide the training and technology resources needed are two offerings being launched this Summer: The Creative Arkansas Community Hub & Exchange (CACHE), and the Fayetteville Library Innovation Center.    

Mario Troncoso, 10-time Emmy Award winner, made an investment in the region with his move here in 2020 from Austin. Mario is the Director of Film and Media Ecosystems for CACHE. Mario believes we need to develop programs to attract and retain independent producers who can make high-quality content faster and cheaper. “Developing a world-class producer’s lab, a grant program, and a media market could be a great way to develop more talent and provide more resources,” Mario said. To that end CACHE is getting ready to launch the CACHE Media Hub in Springdale which includes an equipment lending library. The primary goal is to support content creators with tools, training, and networking opportunities. “I believe that this space will strengthen the film and media community, provide jobs and promote economic growth,” he said. “Watch for more details about the contributions CACHE is making to the region and collaborations with city programs throughout Northwest Arkansas.”

The newest contribution for filmmaker education and resources is the Fayetteville Library’s 82,000-square-foot expansion which includes an Innovation Center. Within that center the library invested $300,000 in a professional-level audio recording studio, a video editing studio, a green screen, photography studio and a computer lab. The Innovation Center will offer classes and programming for all ages, but the studio spaces are reservable from teens to adults.

Investments in accessible technology and film workforce development will create a vibrant filmmaking community in our region.  Northwest Arkansas has a unique culture of a can-do spirit with enthusiasm that is being shared as visiting production companies go back to their home regions.

Other Influencers in NWA Film Industry

In 2014 the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) put a spotlight on the Northwest Arkansas region as visiting filmmakers experienced Ozark landscapes, learned of the talented pool of film crews and the availability of experienced actors of all ages. The strength of our community support, and the Arkansan friendliness has made for a winning combination that positions the region to compete with bigger markets.

Kristin Mann, an Arkansan and a filmmaker-alumni of BFF who resides in Austin, is Head of Content for the BFF Foundation. "I was born and raised in Arkansas but had to leave at a certain point to pursue my career as a film producer. I'm thrilled, after all these years, to now be able to bring that experience back to my home state and help grow the industry here and oversee the new production arm in partnership with BFFoundation. The opportunity is here. We just need to maximize it, so I'm joining the efforts being made to do just that."

Kristin has a lot she wants to achieve, in her career. Her goals for Arkansas include making the industry at large more aware of the Arkansas film tax incentive and all we have to offer here, provide development support to filmmakers and companies leading to more projects being brought to Arkansas, creating more work opportunities for local production crew to gain further experience and improve upon skills thereby fostering a sustainable film production ecosystem that keeps talent here.

Another Arkansan and BFF filmmaker alumni is Kerri Elder, founder and Executive Producer of Rockhill Studios with her son Blake Elders, CEO and President. Rockhill Studios recently provided location and props support for Producer Emma Pek, Production Manager for American Cinema International, (ACI) has produced two films in Arkansas and just wrapped on a third. Pek’s producing partner, Christian Beckman of Quantum Creation FX and Director Sean Olsen, a four-time Emmy winner, are both BFF filmmaker alumni.

The first two ACI films were made in Mountain View, Arkansas, and the current film used locations throughout Northwest Arkansas. Her films, “Follow Your Heart,” premiered in Hallmark Movies & Mysteries in 2019. “Finding Love in Mountain View” will premiere in Hallmark NOW this October and it will continue to the channel next year.

They ACI production team fell in love with the Mountain View and its charm, so they changed the title of the film to match it. They also wrote in some scenes that showcase the uniqueness of Mountain View community. For example, the Saturday music session in the town square, the nearby caverns, and many other small details that added to the character of the film. They also captured the beautiful scenery through aerials and driving scenes. For their current film they changed some script locations to places that will showcase the beauty of Bentonville.

The economic impact ACI projects have had are significant.  They typically hire an average of 40 cast and crew for their films and around 50% are local hires.  The COVID pandemic dictated smaller cast and crews and more stringent set precautions, so the current project consisted of 30 people with 14 local hires. Hotel accommodations were somewhat smaller with 17 hotel rooms, and three vacation rentals. Rental cars and miscellaneous expenses also infused money into the local economy.

“The support we have received on every film has been overwhelming, and I’m extremely grateful for all the help that made the film possible,” Pek shared. “There’s also a growing, yet still close-knit, film community here where you get to work with the same crew, whom you’ve enjoyed working with before and have created a bond with.”

Justin Eaton, Owner of IDK? Cafe+Catering of Rogers, is a great example of how a local entrepreneur has leveraged his expertise to grow his business by supporting the growing film industry.  Justin and his team have succeeded in meeting the unique challenges of catering a film production resulting well over 5000 catered meals for eight films since 2018.  Creating and delivering two high-quality, budget friendly meals per day to 30-60 cast and crew over two 5-week film shoots has many challenges. Shoot schedules vary and can go into early morning hours, sometimes in remote locations without cell service.

“It is definitely rewarding,” Eaton says. “Being part of the film production industry in NW Arkansas has been a very fulfilling experience,” he continued. “Each production requires creating new ways to meet the needs of a variety of diets and clients!  And, seeing your name forever in the credits and on the big screen is really fulfilling in its own right.”

Investments in accessible technology and film workforce development will create a vibrant filmmaking community in our region.  Northwest Arkansas has a unique culture of a can-do spirit with enthusiasm that is being shared as visiting production companies go back to their home regions.

The Fayetteville Library is very supportive of the film industry and providing resources for visiting production companies. To grow the local pool of talent and facilitate jobs, the library’s Center for Innovation has plans to offer classes and programming for all ages and provide studio space and equipment for teens and adults.

“The library envisioned the studio suites to provide a launching pad for patrons interested in learning about audio and video production,” shared David Johnson, Executive Director for the Fayetteville Public Library. “We wanted to make the technology accessible to everyone and give patrons the opportunity to learn a new skill or to train in a new field that could lead to job opportunities,” he continued. Johnson’s goal is to help develop the next generation of audio and video producers. He and his team are developing collaborations with other film making teams and student programs in NWA and plan to offer training on the equipment, including some certifications when feasible.

The innovation center also includes a professional-level audio recording studio that can be reserved by local musicians and technicians. A video editing studio is also being built alongside a photography studio and a computer lab. Plans are also in the works for checking out podcasting equipment kits for those who don’t have access to their own tools. Nearly all of this will be available to use, free of charge, to any resident who wants to come to the library and learn a new skill. Those wanting to charge admission for classes or for-profit businesses will need to pay a rental fee for some uses.

The library has already served as a location for a film production company. “Working with a professional Los Angeles based production company was a true learning opportunity for our staff ” Johnson shared. “It gave us a sense of how many fast-moving pieces go into the making a film. The process is a true art form,” he continued. “We are most proud of our ability to be flexible and we strive to be known as “easy to do business with.”  We hope this is the first of many opportunities for Fayetteville Public Library to be engaged in the film making process.“

With the investments in making technology accessible and the level of workforce development the region will experience a vibrant film making community.  Northwest Arkansas has a unique culture of a can-do spirit with enthusiasm that is being shared as visiting production companies go back to their home regions. Arkansas film making is no longer a secret.