Humans have always had a burning desire to tell stories. From the campfires of the stone age to the podcasts of today, storytelling has been a common thread that informs the culture in which we live through education and imagination. For over a hundred years, film has been the dominant medium for storytelling. While filmmaking originated on the east coast and in Europe, filmmakers quickly headed west and established Hollywood, leading to the industry that still thrives today.
For years, Arkansas only had small brushes with filmmaking like the 1982 CBS miniseries The Blue and the Gray. In 1996, Billy Bob Thornton returned to Saline County to make Sling Blade. A decade later, Arkansas natives Joey Lauren Adams and Jeff Nichols directed their debut films here. Still, outside of a handful of indies, the industry never fully took off until Nichols’ 2012 film Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, kickstarted a new era for movie making in the state. Since then, not only are productions coming here, but Arkansas filmmakers have made their own homegrown productions with financing, crew and often talent from within the state. Studios have popped up to meet the demand.
The University of Central Arkansas and John Brown University have watched their film programs grow and prosper. Festivals like Filmland, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Bentonville Film Festival and the Fayetteville Film Fest have brought critically-acclaimed films and filmmakers to the Natural State. This past year, a bi-partisan effort to expand film incentives passed the legislature so now production companies have a choice between the previous rebate from the governor’s office or a new tax credit. Hollywood has also taken notice as famous actors like John Cusack and Martin Lawrence have come here for their latest productions. Lawrence actually shot scenes outside of our office at Creative Spaces NWA and walked right past me. Yes, he’s as tall as I expected.
This past year, I’ve had the privilege of really getting to know the growing film community in our state as the Outreach & Programming Director at the Arkansas Cinema Society. I’m very excited for the future of filmmaking in our state. This isn’t just a way to bring in outsiders to shoot something and leave town; it is a boon to the community through economic growth with jobs and dollars spent by both local and national productions. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has been a strong advocate for filmmaking in the state and our Film Commissioner Christopher Crane has worked tirelessly to bring more productions here. Our legislature is starting to recognize the economic impact of filmmaking and the arts too. Hopefully, this support will continue and expand in the coming years. So if you’ve always wanted to be in the movies, whether in front of the camera or behind it, you might not have to pack your bags and head west to Hollywood in the future. You can just stay here and find work in our state. Fingers crossed.