BISMARCK, N.D. _ Led by “Young Four Eyes,” the film industry is taking the next steps to kindle business interest in North Dakota.
Business leaders and politicians, including Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and out-of-state interests met July 3 at Fort Abraham Lincoln for a “Film Fund Initiative” banquet and panel discussion on the future of a film industry in the state. They discussed a privately-funded North Dakota film fund, a Badlands Film Festival, and the production of the mini-series “Young Four Eyes.”
The banquet was organized by Jamestown native Richard Melheim, a Lutheran pastor and author of the screenplay “Young Four Eyes,” in conjunction with Princebury Productions & Media, a production company based in southern California.
“Young Four Eyes” details the early life of former president Theodore Roosevelt, emphasizing the “bully spirit” of Roosevelt and the North Dakota Badlands.
Princebury’s interest in “Young Four Eyes” sparked the initiative to bring other film projects to North Dakota and to develop a sustainable, independent film industry in the state.
The banquet was a networking event for about 80 business leaders and other interested people to discuss “partnerships and exchanges” that could help build the film industry in the state, Melheim said.
The next day, Melheim and Princebury delivered a presentation on developing a film industry-friendly infrastructure in North Dakota, and they outlined steps needed to “turn North Dakota into the family-friendly film capitol of the world.” About 25 people attended the second event of the three days of meetings.
Princebury members and Melheim hosted their Hollywood guests again on July 5, this time in Medora to experience the Badlands and to scout potential filming sites.
Chad Stewart, managing director of Princebury Productions, and Sara Otte Coleman, director of the tourism division of the North Dakota Department of Commerce, described the weekend of events as a successful first step.
Coleman said “connections were made between the right people” and that it was an opportunity to educate North Dakota businesspeople on the benefits of a film industry in the state.
Now that the first step has been taken and a network has formed, Melheim, Stewart, and Coleman agree the next move is to build an infrastructure by increasing interest in the industry on the local level.
"If they do want to get incentives, that has to happen at the Legislature,” Otte Coleman said. “That (initiative) would have to come from locals.”
It includes encouraging constituents to urge their legislators to put a film industry-building policy on the legislative agenda. That could include tax incentives for film projects, a film commission acting as a division of the North Dakota Department of Commerce, or funding for screenwriting programs in public colleges so that the state could “grow” its own film producers.
Melheim is considering a multi-city trip through the state advocating the development of an infrastructure in conjunction with the North Dakota Department of Commerce. He intends to visit with city leaders and politicians to propose the kinds of local initiatives that could establish a film industry-friendly infrastructure.
Melheim stressed that film projects and production companies are businesses.
“If there is going to be an industry,” Melheim said, “there needs to be an infrastructure in place.”
Dalrymple’s office said he has not been approached with legislation, and is currently not considering any proposals from Princebury or Melheim, or from the greater film industry. But his office said a film industry, like any other industry, would mean economic growth, and that is something the governor supports.
Melheim and Princebury are not daunted by the lack of infrastructure, and they see it as an opportunity to mold the industry with their own ideas, to develop “hybrid” legislation with film business experts, and to build the industry from the ground up, Melheim said
“It’s not a bad thing that (North Dakota) has no (film) commission or incentives; it’s a clean slate,” Melheim said.