Is Hamilton County Ready for its Close-up?

By Ann Craig-Cinnamon

Movies.  Just the mention of that word stirs up images of our favorite films.  Film making is an exciting industry, but not an easy one.  And it’s even more difficult if you’re trying to do it from Indiana and not from the west or east coast. 

Sure, there have been big movies shot in Indiana, such as Hoosiers, A League of their Own and Eight Men Out.  But big Hollywood feature films with an Indiana connection are rare.  Surprisingly though, there is a robust film making community in Indiana, and in Hamilton County.

Amy Howell, the Director of Communications and Media Relations with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, reports that statewide there were 192 projects last year, which could include feature films, short films, commercial productions, TV shoots, and music videos. There are no specific numbers for Hamilton County, however the Visit Hamilton County website lists three movies shot in the county in the last year. Howell says Indiana is a great place for filming.  "Film making is a growing industry in Indiana. We have several schools that support this craft," she says. 


Tax Incentives

One hindrance to having more films shot in Indiana is the lack of tax incentives which other states offer.  Filmmaker Philip Paluso, the President of Medium Cool Pictures in Fishers, has been in the industry for 25 years.  He feels that Indiana needs to offer competitive incentives for studios and independent producers to make their films here. "We lose a lot of that business to neighboring states who land more of the business by offering attractive tax incentives. When you have two high profile film festivals like the Heartland and Indy International we should expect more major film work," he says adding, "however, I've seen an uptick that says it's changing for the better."

Paluso's credits include writing and producing for USA Track & Field, producing an award winning series of documentaries about Indiana born sports heroes and teams, and producing, directing, writing and shooting the film "Wings for Maggie Ray" which airs nationally on PBS, among other creative pursuits. He thinks film making here is difficult only if you don't look for opportunities.  "The problem, I think, is that many equate success with making studio backed, traditionally distributed, feature length narrative films, or a TV series deal with the big four networks. That model is a low probability endeavor for most without the right connections and representation," he says.

One avenue for aspiring film makers is to produce a crowd funded independent feature, or short, that gets noticed at high profile film festivals.  That, says Paluso, could mean being picked up by a reputable distributer which could land a film maker's work on Amazon Prime or iTunes or as a low budget series on YouTube, potentially attracting thousands of subscribers and translating into decent income, and in some cases production deals from cable networks. "The surge of Netflix, Amazon, YouTube Red and other platforms provides a myriad of opportunities and loyal viewers. Whatever your aspirations, just don't give up," says Paluso. 

Making a Living

Film maker, writer, director, producer Kate Chaplin who resides in Noblesville, has produced 18 films in Hamilton County and worked on dozens more inside and outside the county from 2007 to 2017.  She started making films in high school in 1993 with a camcorder she borrowed from a friend and has won numerous awards including Audience Choice award at the 2016 Alhambra Film Festival, Best Short Non-Genre film at 2015 Imaginarium Convention, and Audience Choice award at 2008 INDY Awards. 

Chaplin says if you want to be a film maker there is no reason that you can't be.  "With technology so accessible, you can take your phone and make a short film today. It’s not difficult to make the films, it's more difficult, but not impossible, to make a living off the films you make."

She says there are lots of opportunities to work on your own projects or on other people’s projects, and to work for larger visiting production companies. "While living in Hamilton County I’ve worked on projects that showed on Discovery Channel, VH1, CMT, and Investigation Discovery," she says adding that there are networking groups that help find cast and crew for your projects and other filmmakers' projects. For larger projects, getting on production lists such as Film Indiana, Production Hub and Stage 32 can help you find work.

Chaplin thinks Hamilton County is a wonderful place to make films but needs a venue that is affordable for filmmakers to premiere their films.

Telling our Story

Moriarty Media President James Moriarty, who has been in the industry for 20 years, thinks that, outside of industrial and commercial films, there is very little film making in Indiana but he hopes to change that. 

With help from the city of Carmel, Moriarty started the Carmel Film Forum which he describes as a forum that connects film makers here with professional film makers that are doing things. 

Moriarty thinks film making can be a viable profession in Hamilton County. "Like anything it depends on your product.  It depends on what you are trying to create," he says adding, "I think all these blockades with tax incentives is an excuse not to make something."

His goal is to teach and empower more people to get into film and create more work.  "People here get a great education with IU and Butler University but a lot of these people have to find work elsewhere so they go to Chicago or LA, bigger markets". 

That is Whitney Robert's plan.  She and fellow Fishers High School senior Cynthia Foulke recently won a statewide screenwriting contest and then were involved in the shooting of their short story at Hamilton Town Center, an experience that confirmed her goal of pursuing film making as a career.  However she's planning on heading to Chicago or New York.  "I just want to see people like me reach their career opportunities without having to go so far away.  So it would be nice to see those opportunities here," she says.

Moriarty believes there’s no reason we can’t be telling stories.  "The stories won't be Hollywood with car crashes and spaceships, but we can tell our stories."