Bentonville gets the ball rolling on film production
A cloudless Sunday sky offered no relief to the production crew shuffling two cameras and three actors through traffic and around the Bentonville square earlier this month. After their hour-long lunch break, everyone was back to work creating FREDI, a family-friendly actionadventure slated to hit theaters in the summer of 2018.
Warm, but wet, hand towels were replaced with ice-cold towels to defend against heat exhaustion. Clips were run, rerun, and the production crew continued to migrate equipment down the square as the assistant director and director jogged ahead to scope out the next scene.
Bentonville is in what some have dubbed its “beta stage” of film production, and Visit Bentonville
director Kalene Griffith has worked with local businesses, talent and crews like FREDI’s to ensure that it doesn’t stay that way.
Griffith credits Bentonville’s transition from business to tourism to the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2011; as a destination, it brings in about half a million
dollars annually. Apart from that, Northwest Arkansas hotels and restaurants have seen an 8 to 15 percent increase in tax collection in the last six years, and Griffith said the numbers don’t show signs of receding.
“We continue to have new and exciting things happening, which will continue to increase that opportunity of people choosing us as a tourism destination.”
Culinary, cycling and arts are ever-developing interests all of Northwest Arkansas is nurturing, and Griffith doesn’t hesitate to throw in a fourth — film.
“We’re continuing to grow our resources,” Griffith said. “We’re getting directors and producers to film in our region.”
The latest production, Future Robotics Engineering Design Innovation or FREDI for short, is about a relationship between a boy growing up in a divorced home and the robot he finds and eventually befriends. Producers and directors pride themselves on FREDI being a “good, clean” film.
“It harkens back to everything that I love about movies,” director Sean Olson said. “It’s kind of an ’80s style movie. It’s reminiscent of Zodiacs of the Future, The Goonies — a time when kids rode bikes and went on adventures.”
For FREDI specifically, Griffith got connected with Johnny Remo, FREDI’s producer, and Olson at the Bentonville Film Festival, hosted by Geena Davis and Trevor Drinkwater. It was through the festival that Remo got introduced to Bentonville and eventually “fell in love.”
“I directed a film here two years ago called ‘Saved by Grace’ which stars Joey Lawrence,” Remo began. “And we were in competition in the Bentonville Film Festival, which is great. They were great here.
“I had the [FREDI] script for about three years now. As soon as I came here and saw the place, I went, ‘This is the perfect, perfect spot to do this.’”
Born and raised in Miami, Fla., Remo had never heard of Bentonville. But through the Bentonville Film Festival, he got connected with people like Griffith and is back to film again. On par with Griffith’s goal of uniting Northwest Arkansas in film production so out-of-towners can “easily transition from community to community,” Remo is also shooting FREDI in Fayetteville and at Crystal Bridges Museum.
Even though production wrapped up July 15, Griffith said the lasting effects of filming a production in Northwest Arkansas are evident.
“Just in the two weeks that we’ve had FREDI, we’ve already seen a total internet reach of half a million [people],” Griffith said.
In publicity value — or the amount of money Visit Bentonville did not have to pay to advertise in a particular publication — Griffith reported organizations like Skipstone Pictures and
US Daily are contributing $10,000 to $12,000 worth of publicity for the city of Bentonville.
The Bentonville Film Festival did something similar. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette previously reported the first year of the festival drew “an estimated 50 filmmakers and 37,000 attendees.” Reports announcing the 2016 festival dates reported the festival generated “more than $1 million in business for the local economy” in its inaugural year.
It’s those kinds of tangible figures that encouraged people like Kerri Elder of RockHill Studios to invest in Northwest Arkansas’ film industry and make it something attractive to outsiders, while simultaneously encouraging local growth.
RockHill Studios, located in Fayetteville, houses “a 4,000-square-foot sound-proof soundstage, talent-prep facilities, a stateof-the-art editing suite and equipment and studio rental,” the website reads.
A daughter-son duo, Elder partnered with her son, Blake, when he returned from studying film production and creating films in New York and elsewhere eight or nine years ago. Blake and his aunt began pouring their passion into creating the soundstage at their Fayetteville location, and Elder brought her finance experience to the table to round out their team.
“One of our goals was to facilitate and bring more films to the area,” Elder said. “Now that we would have the infrastructure with the studio, we could do so much more.”
Through Bentonville Film Festival connections, Elder and her son were pitched the FREDI script and decided to invest in the film, both financially and as executive producers. RockHill Studios is also working in association with Skipstone Pictures on the project.
Elder, too, echoed the need to grow the film industry Northwest Arkansas has.
“We have to have more projects come here — that’s the only way we’re going to have people working here, staying here.”
For the filming of FREDI, some resources were sourced locally, but a good portion of the project was brought in from out of state. All of the actors, for example, are from out of town.
The main character, Lucius Hoyos, is accompanied by Chloe Lukaziak and Reid Miller. Other cast members include Texas Battle, Tyler Christopher, Christina Cox, Kelly Hu, Casimere Jollette and Angus Macfadyen.
Remo also said he flew in about half of the 20-person crew. Several students from John Brown University in Siloam Springs also helped.
While growing the industry itself is important, Elder said being able to nurture the next generation of local filmmakers is just as important as bringing films to Northwest Arkansas in the first place.
“What you’ve got now is a qualified, professional, skilled labor pool graduating from four state universities, and we have wonderful locations and wonderful people wanting in this industry,” Elder said. “We are set to move very quickly to a destination of producers and filmmakers.”
Much this work couldn’t be done without organizations like Visit Bentonville, the Northwest Arkansas Film Commission, the Bentonville Film Festival and productions like FREDI, Griffith said.
“It’s also an educational opportunity for us to know where we’re lacking in some things and what we need to work on as a film-friendly destination.”
Andrew Williams slates a shot in the production of Future Robotics Engineering Design Innovation or FREDI, for short, on the Bentonville Square. Thanks to the growth of the area, as well as amenities and events, Bentonville increasingly attracts interest of filmmakers