VOL. 130 | NO. 100 | Friday, May 22, 2015
Time to Produce
DAN CONAWAY | Special to The Daily News
MEMPHIS: THE SEQUEL. “People who make movies – people like Francis Ford Coppola and Milos Forman and Sydney Pollack, and our own Craig Brewer and Willy Bearden – and people like me who write and produce TV spots and videos all have something in common. We know just how damn good Memphis looks through a lens, we know how deep the local talent pool is for actors and crew, we know how wide the choice is for great locations.
“Many of us know that, but the state of Tennessee and many of our own legislators and leaders haven’t seen the movie. They don’t seem to know what the bright lights of movies can mean for our image, our coffers, and our bragging rights.
“They don’t know cinema from shinola.
“To paraphrase from Mr. Coppola’s body of work, it’s time we made moviemakers an offer they can’t refuse.”
I wrote those words five years ago and the big-time movie screen in Memphis is still dark, the words still valid despite independent film festivals and the like, despite the $14 million of support the legislature is crowing about. They threw a couple million to Knoxville, gave us $4 million, and kept $8 million of the popcorn in Nashville to keep ABC’s eponymous country soap on the air for another season.
It’s not Linn Sitler’s fault. For almost 30 years as Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commissioner she’s been auditioning Memphis for the movies, sometimes with spectacular success and always with limited resources, earning the respect of the entire motion picture industry while getting all but ignored on the home set.
It’s our fault. Bless our hearts, when something good happens to us we think it’s a fluke. Rather than embrace success and build on it, we ignore it, and when it fades away it becomes our self-fulfilling prophecy.
Consider these names: Matt Damon, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Tom Cruise, Edward Norton, Tommy Lee Jones, Gene Hackman, Ossie Davis, Helen Hunt, Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter, Mary-Louise Parker, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, Jon Voight, Mickey Rourke, Roy Scheider, Ed Harris, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder, David Strathairn, Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Terrence Howard, Samuel L. Jackson. Over about 15 years ending in 2006, every one of them and more took close-ups right here and moviemaking in Memphis was as hot as, well, Memphis.
Then we turned our backs to all that and let ourselves get money-whipped.
Linn Sitler will make the $4 million work harder than a one-armed paperhanger, but it won’t be enough to turn on the big klieg lights again. We need a full cast of civic and business leaders behind her with creative incentives and vested interest in every project. Memphians have to become producers pitching their city as a set, their real streets and hard history as backdrop, their colorful personality and imagination as characters, their ingenuity as an asset.
Time for Memphis to star again. Big time.
I’m a Memphian, and we belong in the movies.
Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.