On March 2nd, Bill Parr, representing the Northampton County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) met with Town Council to discuss a possible film being made in Cape Charles by Corbin Bernson (LA Law fame) and Regent University’s Home Theater Films. While Parr framed it as win for the town, the details revealed that Home Theater Films was looking for $350K in funding for the film in $50K increments. Parr proposed a partnership with the town, Northampton County and the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission (ESVTC) for one unit of $50K which amounted to $12,500 from each entity.
At the March 16th Town Council meeting, citizens voiced concerns about the Regent offer, as well as support for the local Experimental Film Virginia (EFV) project.
Renata Sheppard, director of Experimental Film Virginia provided a list of benefits the project brings to the town, “It is aligned with the National Endowments for the Arts Creative place making strategies and more specially aligned with the Main Street initiative. It is a combination of arts, culture, culinary experience, making the arts integral to building a brand for the Eastern Shore, but also for our town in particular, to use or to integrate the arts into the fabric of the economy and development. This is Experimental Films 5th year, and this year we are launching a new program called ‘Art Soaked Weekends’. The reason we are doing this is we want to show how we can expand the program so that it will benefit the entire town, to get more tourists in here, to increase our tax revenue. John Schallert when he was here noted that free publicity is ten times more effective than paid advertising. We need to design an experience and we need to have activities, enjoying them and posting them on social media. It’s about touching their heart…Our project is social media-centric, we generate thousands of images that are spread across the internet.”
Amy Watkins, director of Arts Enter Dance noted the cultural and artistic benefits of EFV, “We want to do all we can to keep this project in Cape Charles. We have been told by other people that this project has legs, and there are other people that are really interested in it. I just hope we can keep it here for our kids and our students. For me, when we first moved here from Northern Virginia, where we were exposed to so much, and so much cultural diversity, I was worried about the lack of access to some things, like different cultures, but because of Experimental Films, Renata has brought all of that here to us. She brought the culture to the town. My children have had the opportunity to work with film directors from Italy, Hong Kong, Germany and Israel, they have danced with professional dancers from all over the world. They have been exposed to this world of the performing arts, and they have their eyes opened. This is so impactful to our children and they look forward to it every year.”
Representing the Cape Charles Business Association, Suzanne Golibart of Periwinkles Consignment promoted the economic benefits EFV brings to Cape Charles, “One of our goals is to brand, execute and support activities that benefit the town. I am here to encourage the town to become partners and supporters of Experimental Film Virginia, which has, and will continue to benefit Cape Charles in so many ways. EFV has a direct impact on the economic vitality of Cape Charles, bringing people from all over to help promote our town as a destination location. They come and eat, shop and play, and experience art in a unique setting. It adds another element to our already growing tourism options.”
Wayne Creed questioned the benefits of the Regent offer, and that if anything, that money should be spent locally, “She’s (Renata Sheppard) asking for $10k, I think it should be more, because sometimes I don’t think the town invests enough in the arts, that the investment is enough for the Palace Theatre or for experiences like Experimental Films. I know we are going to be talking about Regent Hometown Films, and how they are going to bring their people here, and they are asking for 12 or 15 thousand dollars, or whatever they are asking for, I would say when we are talking about Main Street and branding the town, Experiential Films is going to give us more value for the buck. Regent films, unless they specifically write Cape Charles into the script, no one is going to know anything about that. If we give them money, at the very end of the credits it might say ‘filmed in Cape Charles’ but nobody is going to see that, and Netflix doesn’t even run the credits. And, with Regent, you are dealing with Pat Robertson and the 700 Club…nothing against them, but you have to realize they have their own thing, and people do know who they are. In terms of branding, is that an association we want to have? Let’s say if the jerk from the Cape Charles Mirror has a headline ‘Cape Charles partners with Pat Robertson on a Film’, these families from up north, or Northern Virginia or DC, and they may say, as they are deciding where to go, they may not want to be involved in this. As far as branding, I think we have remain agnostic, and Experimental Films is agnostic, culturally, religiously, it is wide open, culturally diverse. Giving money to those guys, instead of Experimental Films, our own, our homegrown guys, I think it would be a big mistake, and something we really have to look at. It so important to keep supporting our local…our local efforts. Our students, like the kids in The Arts Enter Academy of Theater Arts, and the kids in Amy Watkins’ Arts Enter dance school, they benefit so much from this…they benefit from meeting other cultures, dancers and film directors from all over the world, it such a rich, wonderful experience that I think we all, as a town need to get behind and support.”
Discussion by Town Council tended to align with public comments.
Mayor George Proto: Is it your understanding that filming here is contingent upon financial support?
Town Manager Brent Manuel: It has been offered, but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker.
Councilman Chris Bannon: He asked for it, but we have not….
Proto: We have not promised it?
Councilwoman Dora Sullivan: He asked for food, lodging and public services.
Bannon: I would be leery of any film where they ask money of us; usually when a company comes into town, they give us money for police protection, and for public works and things like that. His films are not even B films, they’re D films. I think we’re throwing money away if we give it to Regent University. I’m with Wayne, for once…for the first time ever (laughter from crowd).
Proto: I’m not keen on doing this. If we’re going to spend that kind of money, we should be spending it in the town. Something that is internal to the town rather than something that is a commercial venture. I think there are probably a number of other reasons why this is not a good idea. In terms of actual money out of the town, I am not in favor of this.
Sullivan: Initially we were, after the work session, somewhat in favor. But after tonight’s presentation, I would be embarrassed to not give money to Experimental Films….I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Wayne (more laughter). There’s too much at stake here.
Councilman Andy Buchholz: We have to keep the money here.