St. Louis: The Next Hollywood?
By Suzanne Vanderhoef
Imagine if the iconic image of the Hollywood sign were replaced by the St. Louis Arch as the symbol of US movie making.
It may never go quite that far, but if one local group has its way, it will soon move a step closer. St. Louis Film Works is a new initiative to grow the infrastructure and the ecosystem for the entertainment and media industry in the region and become a hub for emerging storytellers. It plans to do that by taking a page from the economic development gameplan used by the St. Louis technology sector.
“You can’t have Google come in and say, you know, we’re going to come in and hire 1,500 people,” says Shad Schoeke, Co-Founder of St. Louis Film Works. “That’s not going to happen because St. Louis does not have the talent or the resources there. So, in order to bridge that gap, they started something like Arch Grants to give away $50,000 grants to attract companies and they began to grow a grassroots ecosystem. Now, 20 years later, that’s gotten to the point where Square is hiring 1,500 people and Accenture is bringing in 1,400 people, but we had to get to that point. So with St. Louis Film Works, what we’re doing is bringing in grants to bring in storytellers to build up the crew, the experience to get to that point where now we can compete.”
And the potential is there. Movie and television entertainment is a $2.1 trillion industry. In production alone, it accounts for almost $15 billion covering nearly 300-million businesses and 34 different industries per production. That’s not just the directors, writers and actors, but also all the ancillary businesses that are impacted from this, starting from dry cleaners and rental houses and printing companies and car rentals, hospitality.
“Our overall initiative, our 10-15 year initiative is focused on creating that new narrative and that window into our world,” explains Mary Kay Sheets, Co-Founder of St. Louis Film Works. “Making sure that we have great grants available to draw in those emerging storytellers, have an accelerator program that gives them the resources that they need in order to survive and thrive in the industry and the infrastructure, then it’s the campus part and having that studio hub”
And those efforts already seem to be paying dividends. S.U.I.T.E Media Productions and Management –which has people based in Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami – is planning to build its headquarters in St. Louis.
“We felt that we need to position ourselves somewhere where we can lead the way,” says Michael Henderson, CEO of S.U.I.T.E. “We can be part of a team that leads the way. And that’s what we feel like we’re a part of. We feel like we’re associated with SLFW because they’re leading the way. They’re not one of many in Atlanta. They’re not one of many in New Mexico. And they’re not one of many in Oklahoma or Canada. But they’re one of one in Missouri and in St. Louis.”
In addition to helping build out the infrastructure, St. Louis Film Works also plans to offer grants of up to $750,000 each to bring filmmakers to the area and help them get distribution, with part of the deal being that it must be used in the area so that it pumps money back into the region.