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Nebraska Film: Mark Hoeger of Oberon Entertainment

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.

As 35-millimeter film continues to become a figment of filmmaking’s past, another emerging technique has given new life to the independent film industry, serving as a self-expressive art form for the filmmakers it attracts. The name of this emerging art form: digitization.

Digital cameras, one of many devices to evolve from the digital revolution, provided aspiring filmmakers with an easy film production alternative and often times, served as a less expensive option.

Curating film festivals since the 1980s, Mark Hoeger – co-president of Oberon Entertainment, an Omaha-based media production company – has witnessed the evolution of film.

And, with more than 30 years of experience as a theater and film producer, Hoeger has observed this evolution on more than one front.

“This digital revolution has literally taken the capacity of what would’ve taken millions of dollars and just given it to you free for hooking into your laptop,” he said. “Independent artists can really take up film as a form of personal expression in a way that was unprecedented in the history of film.”

(Photo of Hoeger from oberonentertainment.tv.)

Omahans have taken advantage of the fact that money is no longer a standing barrier and, in the process, have developed a “really interesting and unique independent film community.”

Non-profits, such as the Omaha Film Festival and Film Streams, are to credit for the upbringing of the local independent film community. However, Hoeger said, the predominant players in the community still have a lot to prove to the film industry.

“I feel like we’re at that point where we’ve got the kindling of a lot of really good talent,” he said. “It will just take a little spark to ignite it.”

Nik Fackler – the 26-year-old writer and director of “Lovely, Still,” a holiday fable about a man who experiences love for the first time – is an example of a “kindling” local talent.

Despite lack of film incentives, Fackler chose Omaha as the location for his film, which starred Academy Award-actors Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn.

Fackler’s film was also a favorite among film festivals, taking away six awards: “Best Director” and “Best Actor” Martin Landau from the California Indie Film Festival, as well as four “Official Selection” awards, one of which was from the Toronto Film Festival. Regardless of its success, the film didn’t strike rich with major distributors and studios in the United States, as of yet. 

Dana Altman – owner, producer and director of North Sea Films, an Omaha-based film production company – is also an example.

(Left: Dana Altman on right. Photo by Paparazzi by Appointment, courtesy of Dana Altman.)

“[He] has done a great job of being able to pull together independent financing for a number of films,” he said. “But, he’s always found it very difficult to get serious distribution for what were some very good films.”

Already without film incentives, local filmmakers must learn to separate the artistic side of the business from the commercial side of the business, Hoeger said, in order for them to avoid breaking into the traditional Hollywood system. Take music, for example.

“In the old days, if you were a musician, your whole goal was to try and go to Nashville, Hollywood or Detroit and get in your genre and try and get discovered,” Hoeger said of the traditional music industry system. “If you were discovered playing your heart out somewhere, then suddenly you’ve got bright lights…and you’re on the Ed Sullivan Show.”

The future of film will be much more like the Saddle Creek Records model, he said.

“I think that’s probably a model that will be real common in the film industry, where you’ll see people making truly independent films, some of which you know traditional commercial distribution until a significant following has been made,” Hoeger said. “It’s much more about [how] one has the capacity to develop your own music.

“It used to be, ‘Hey, I can turn that guy into somebody’ and then they sold you off to an audience. Now, people develop their own audiences and they bring that audience with them and eventually, someone in the commercial world might say, ‘Let’s add our marketing expertise and we’ll take [it] to the next level.'”

Ultimately, time and place come into play when seeking fame in the film industry.

“It’s a huge game of musical chairs,” he said. “Obviously, if you’re Ron Howard, you can be in the inner circle of five people circling around the chairs.

“It’s still a matter of, ‘Is that the right place at the right time with an empty chair let in front of you to be able to plop down and grab your slot?’”

All that is holding Nebraska back from being the “right place” for the industry, Hoeger said, are film incentives.

“Until we get a package of modern film incentives done, I would predict that we would easily reach three to five feature films shot in Nebraska on a regular basis,” said Hoeger. “There’s a nice local audience for those films, and I think that down the road, we could build an audience for local independent film in the same way there’s an audience for symphonies and local bands.”

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