Film and media consultant Doug Miller has worked more than three decades to attract and coordinate film production in the Quad Cities region.
Now he’s being hired by the city of Rock Island’s Economic Development team to formally establish a new QC Regional Film Office. This week, the City Council approved a one-year contract with Miller and his firm, Two Rivers & Associates, to be funded by a $65,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Miller is “well-suited to advise local staff on best practices as the team works to formally establish the Regional Film Office,” according to the council recommendation. The contract has a one-year term and will be paid from the funding allocated for Film Office start-up. The contract (which will pay the consultant $1,665 a month through June 2023) includes an option to extend the term by an additional year if the need exists.
Miller’s responsibilities to the city of Rock Island will be to:
- Advise city staff in the creation of an ordinance for Rock Island to streamline the application and permitting process.
- Recommend any needed city permits.
- Work with city staff to develop a Memorandum of Agreement to be signed off by participating communities/stakeholders of the Film Office.
- Develop a website to showcase the Quad Cities region as a filming destination and provide information about the region.
- Make a recommendation for membership to the Association of Film Commissioners International.
- Identify and create a report for available workforce, workforce needed, required training including cost and a plan to conduct the training, and recommendations on how to grow workforce.
- Prepare documentation for facilities that can house productions.
- Advise staff in efforts to support existing and emerging local filmmakers.
- Guide assessment of feasibility of the concept of a film festival either as a stand-alone event or as a complement to an existing event.
- Provide updates on industry news.
- Provide referrals to the Film Office and respond to referrals from the Film Office.
The new film office would be a one-stop shop for people inquiring about area film production, to “make sure they get in touch with the right people,” Tarah Sipes, the city of Rock Island economic development manager, said Wednesday.
“You want projects that would ideally be filmed in Rock Island, that may have an economic impact for Rock Island, but it serves the entire area,” she said.
“Film production is essentially an economic development activity because when it comes down to it, they need hotel rooms, restaurants, businesses in our community and so we’re approaching it from an economic development aspect,” Sipes said. “We position ourselves as a good value proposition.”
Working with Illinois Film Office
Miller — who’s headed the QC Production Coalition and the former Quad City Film Coalition — is close with Peter Hawley, director of the Illinois Film Office. He brought Hawley to the Rock Island Holiday Inn on Aug. 19, 2021 to talk about state filming incentives and financing, as part of the Alternating Currents festival.
Film and TV production in Illinois spent nearly $362 million in 2020, down 35% from about $560 million spent in 2019. The state Film Office website has a long list of studio and sound stage locations — mostly in Chicago, one in Peoria, and none in the QC.
“It’s challenging because so many places around the state outside of Chicago, do not have the infrastructure and by infrastructure I mean the studio facilities and the crew base,” Hawley said last August. “But that said, because we’re doing more and more production and overall in the state, there’s more production and there’s more infrastructure. It’s getting easier and easier, and Hollywood is ultimately going to chase the dollar and they like it here and you’re having a really gangbuster year and they’re going to want to come to Illinois.”
“I think the Illinois Quad-Cities has a lot to offer for film production,” he said of potential locations and workforce.
“I believe there’s a shortage of sound stages all over the world,” Miller said Wednesday, who noted much of the Illinois film tax credits go to commercials. He wants the new QC film office to be able to market the six-county region to companies and filmmakers all over.
“We want them to say, wait a second, they’ve made 20 movies there in the past 30 years,” Miller said. “That’s more than anybody has between Chicago and Omaha, you know, and be able to then play those cards.”
The Illinois Film Office helps facilitate filmmaking by offering a range of pre-production services through a central contact point. It also serves as a liaison between government departments and agencies, facilitating connections with local communities and arrangements for filming on public property.
The office also offers help with site location photography, a location library, regional scouting services, and logistical information regarding the crew, talent, facilities, stages, equipment, and support services.
Since production companies focus on the bottom line, Illinois tax-credit incentives for filming include:
- 30% of the qualified Illinois production spending.
- 30% credit on Illinois salaries up to $100,000 per worker.
- Tax credit can be carried forward 5 years from when originally issued by Illinois Film Office/Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
- 15% additional credit — applicants will receive an extra 15% tax credit on salaries of people (making at least $1,000 in total wages) who live in economically disadvantaged areas, whose unemployment rate is at least 150% of the state’s annual average.
Sipes of Rock Island attended the Illinois Film Office talk here last August and was impressed.
“I’ve approached this kind of skeptically — what is the likelihood that we will get projects here?” she said Wednesday. “But listening to the way they talked about the film credit and the eagerness of investors to take advantage of that film credit, I think if we can help connect local filmmakers with that organization, I think that will help secure some projects, even if we’re not pulling down a blockbuster film.”
Partnering with organizations and places
Sipes recommended the sprawling QCCA Expo Center (2621 4th Ave., Rock Island) as a good potential film studio space.
“You have the high ceiling heights, space that would be needed,” she said. “The busy season for the Expo Center is the quiet season for the film industry and vice versa. Even if we could bring a small production into their facility, it benefits Rock Island; it benefits the Quad Cities.”
Film production anywhere would need a wide variety of local services – from transportation to hair and makeup, costuming, set builders, food service and electrical, she said. “There are impacts that just cascade downward,” Sipes said.
Rock Island will work with Miller and other QC groups (like the QC Chamber and Visit Quad Cities) to compile lists of qualified, experienced people who can work in the industry, put those contacts on a regional film website, and help market the area.
“There are really good film office websites, like Georgia has a really killer website, with an excellent index,” Sipes said. “That might be an aspirational goal. You have an Illinois production guide, where folks can search for different types of assistance or services, figuring out the best way for our folks to be plugged in.
“We know we have people in the Quad Cities who do that kind of work, skilled tradespeople that could work on some of the jobs,” she said, adding the QC also offers a staggering variety of easily accessible filming locations, from urban to rural.
Miller’s last major QC film project was coordinating shooting for a new TV series, which filmed in the area in late 2019. More than two years after filming exterior scenes of a series in the Illinois Quad Cities, “The Now” premiered this past December on the Roku Channel.
“The Now” is a 14-episode comedy series, directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly. It stars Dave Franco, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Daryl Hannah and Jimmy Tatro. It was originally set to debut in 2020 on Quibi, but it moved to The Roku Channel due to Quibi’s shutdown in December 2020.
None of the series stars were in the local QC filming, which was done over three days in November 2019, and featured shots in downtown Moline, Rock Island, Schwiebert Riverfront Park, and Port Byron (including a police chase in its downtown with a mock Moline squad car). The crew was based at East Moline’s Hyatt House/Hyatt Place, which was remade as an emergency-room entrance for a morning shoot.
Miller hopes to bring back Peter Hawley (whose parents live in Bettendorf) again to this year’s Alternating Currents, to have another panel discussion on filming in the region. The QC film office would also partner with Fresh Films, which is based at Augustana College.
“We’re going to try and partner with as many entities as we can in the beginning,” Miller said. “I also want to work also on trying to encourage the next Scott Beck and Bryan Woods.”
Beck and Woods are Bettendorf natives, and critical film darlings who wrote the hit 2018 thriller “A Quiet Place.”