New studio seen as Northwest region’s shot at filmmaking expansion.
HIWASSE — This quiet community in Northwest Arkansas is going Hollywood.
Farm Studios raised the curtain on its new high-end film and production studio in Hiwasse last week.
Events like the Bentonville Film Festival and production of the film F.R.E.D.I. and HBO show True Detective, both set in Arkansas, are glimmers of the growing interest in Arkansas as a place for making films.
Farm Studios is the next step, said Jason Netter, one of the founders of the festival and CEO of Kickstart Entertainment, a production company in Los Angeles.
“The idea is building into something bigger,” Netter said. “If you want to have a consistent production ecosystem, you have to have the infrastructure to support it.”
Netter, along with Zak and Tom Heald of Intercut Productions, have partnered to create the state-of-the-art film and media production studio in Hiwasse, an unincorporated area in Benton County.
Intercut Productions is a film production company in Bentonville.
A Hollywood-style studio has the potential to increase film production in the state and help develop a local workforce for the film industry, project partners and economic development leaders said.
The studio, on 4.5 acres near Arkansas 279, includes a 9,500-square-foot soundstage, which is equipped with a 50-by-90-foot infinity wall — whose curvature at the floor provides a seamless transition from floor to wall — and a 30-by-50-foot light grid. There is also a 3,000-square-foot set construction workshop.
“Top-tier production requires top-tier infrastructure,” Zak Heald said. “That’s what we’re building here, a space that provides for production whether you’re shooting a $10,000 commercial or a $20 million movie.”
The studio was built in the Hiwasse community of about 500 residents because Hiwasse is quiet, it has easy access so large trucks and equipment can move in and out, and it’s near an airport and hotel and dining options, Netter said.
The studio pairs well with the Bentonville Film Festival, supporters say. Bentonville is just 11 miles southeast of Hiwasse.
Visit Bentonville is seeing an increase of “cold calls of interest” from production companies since the first Bentonville Film Festival in 2015, said Kalene Griffith, Visit Bentonville president and CEO.
This year’s festival is set for May 6-11.
The festival introduced industry players — producers, actors and directors — to the region’s potential, she said.
“There were people filming here before. It was just few and far between,” she said. “Now we’re getting more interest, and people are looking at us, companies are wanting to be a part of the experience in Arkansas.”
Having a studio like Farm Studios will continue to introduce the state to the rest of the world through film and attract more money as crews stay in hotels and eat in restaurants, Griffith said.
The film and television industry contributed $134 billion to the country’s overall economy in 2016, according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s most recent numbers, released this month.
Direct employment in the industry generated $20.6 billion in 2016 from sales taxes on goods, state income taxes and various federal taxes, according to the association. The industry supported 4,907 jobs and $149 million in wages in Arkansas.
Wendy Guerrero, president of programming for the Bentonville Film Festival, said she’s anticipating the festival and studio having a relationship of reciprocity.
“Hopefully, they’ll have shoots here that they can introduce to the festival, and then we can introduce some of our filmmakers and some of our talent to Farm Studios and let them know that there’s resources here beyond just the festival,” she said.
The studio will offer educational opportunities in addition to employment opportunities, Zak Heald said.
The studio is developing educational partners and plans to work with students in eighth grade through college, providing workshops, programming, job shadowing and internships, he said.
“What we always say is when you’re developing workforce talent, you’ll never be what you don’t see,” said Graham Cobb, the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “This gives folks the opportunity to see it. That’s huge.”
Digital media and entertainment were identified as economic sector opportunities in the Bentonville Blueprint, an economic development plan that the city adopted in 2014. Farm Studios helps implement that initiative, Cobb said.
Visitors at Farm Studios in the Hiwasse community tour the soundstage during an open house and ribbon cutting last week.