Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series titled Nebraska Film: An Exploration of the Growing Community. Learn more about the goals of this series and find links to its articles in our announcement: Nebraska Film series starts Monday, August 9.
The onset of digital photography has allowed the film industry to gain independence over the past several years, giving amateur and even professional filmmakers an easier outlet to make films.
After three friends – Marc Longbrake, Jeremy Decker and Jason Levering – journeyed to a festival in Kearney, Nebraska, Omaha joined the lineup of film festivals focused on showcasing independent talent from near and far.
Longbrake, Omaha Film Festival co-founder and program director, said Nebraska was centered at the heart of this “global phenomenon” of independent films.
“We kind of scratched our heads and we thought, ‘Why don’t we have an Omaha Film Festival?’” said Longbrake, who is also the owner of King Penguin Productions, an Omaha-based film production company. “We got back and sort of put the wheels in motion and started doing a bit of research and it looked like something that we could actually accomplish.”
Longbrake said the festival, founded in 2005, has always made a point to highlight Nebraska films, which attract hundreds of people each year.
“People come in, they know the director, they know the writer, they know the actors that were in it, so it’s kind of a family affair,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for people to mix with each other, enjoy each other’s company and see what each other’s working on.”
Some of the most notable filmmakers to take part in the festival are Omaha’s Alexander Payne (left, photo from wikipedia.com), an award-winning director, producer and screenwriter known for his work on About Schmidt and Sideways, and Mike Hill, an Omaha-born, Academy Award-winning film editor known for his work on Ron Howard films, such as Apollo 13.
Longbrake said reaching out to these filmmakers is one of the highlights of the film festival, but reaching out to their sponsors, such as Dana Altman of North Sea Films, is of equal importance. Altman, a producer, director and owner of the Omaha-based film production company, provides office space for the film festival operations to take place, among other contributions.
“He’s got such a huge history in the film world, being the grandson of Robert Altman, and he’s been on film since he was a kid, so he really knows the industry,” he said. “He was very much on board with what we were doing and excited to help us out.”
Along with Altman’s support, the Omaha Film Festival – which primarily attracts a mid-30s to mid-40s demographic – still continues to reach a “broad range of entertainment value.”
“I think it just continues to grow,” Longbrake said. “High-profile film after high-profile film, we’re taking a look at Omaha and it’s exciting to see where we can go.”
Although the Nebraska film community is proving its independence through the festival and rising local talent, film tax incentives are still a surfacing issue as the industry continues to grow.
“It’s something we continue to push for,” Longbrake said. “If we’re going to invest in something, wouldn’t it be better to invest it in things locally versus having a film crew from Los Angeles coming to town and invest in that?”
“Soft dollars” – the money spent by out-of-state film crews in town, as well as the money locals spend to see high-profile talent from another state – is one incentive that is causing Nebraska to shun film tax incentives for the time being.
These dollars are easy to forget about when considering film tax incentives, Longbrake said.
“It kind of raises a level of excitement in town and a lot of money gets spent while they’re shooting the production,” he said. “That’ll raise the level of local filmmakers, as well, because they’ll have the chance to work on some of those larger film projects and then they’ll make better films themselves.”
Until the incentives are approved in Nebraska, the festival and the local and countrywide talent it attracts will continue to grow.
“A lot of the reason we started the Omaha Film Festival was we just wanted to be a part of that community,” Longbrake said. “Nebraska is right there and we are very much a part of it.”
A few weeks ago, Silicon Prairie News sat down with Marc to further discuss the foundation of the Omaha Film Festival, the importance of the festival to Nebraska film, his thoughts on the local film industry and it’s future in the state and abroad. (Video at top.)