New stu­dio seen as North­west re­gion’s shot at film­mak­ing ex­pan­sion.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - MELISSA GUTE

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.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Vis­i­tors at Farm Stu­dios in the Hiwasse com­mu­nity tour the sound­stage dur­ing an open house and rib­bon cut­ting last week.

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