Final Cut

The St. Louis Film Office loses its funding and closes its doors

Toronto has some 60 film productions going on at any given time. St. Louis has a Japanese crew coming in to work on a documentary this month. St. Louis doesn't have a Harold Ramis (a Chicago native) or Barry Levinson (from Baltimore) bringing work back to his hometown, either.

But that's no reason to throw in the towel, says Linn Sitler, executive director of the Memphis and Shelby County Film Commission. She has a two-person staff as well, but even though film production is down everywhere, Sitler is keeping Memphis visible to filmmakers in Hollywood and around the world. She's elicited the services of a recruiter in Germany ("because the Germans have all the money") and another in LA. The Memphis commission sponsors a film festival and IndieMemphis, which features local filmmakers, and she's on her way to LA this weekend for the inaugural B.B. King's Memphis Mississippi Delta Homecoming. "We're inviting all our past and present clients for a private reception, barbecue, Jack Daniel's Lynchburg Lemonade. B.B. King is performing. We have gift bags with Moon Pies and music CDs." She laughs. "We're so cheesy. Maybe that's why it works."

They know how to do things down in Memphis, and they won't be shutting down their film office anytime soon. "Cutting your office is just the worst," says Sitler. When she's told that St. Louis Film Office duties may be taken over by the CVC, she responds, "Absolutely the worst idea. You know why? First of all, when you do get a film in, those filmmakers want your undivided attention. Secondly, if the tourism bureau gets hold of the mission, then they're only going to want the films that shoot in the nice parts of St. Louis and say nice things" -- meaning that a classic such as Escape From New Yorkwould never come along again.

"The past couple of years have been absolutely the worst for the film business in this country. It's been devastating," says St. Louis Film Office director Jim Leonis.
Jennifer Silverberg
"The past couple of years have been absolutely the worst for the film business in this country. It's been devastating," says St. Louis Film Office director Jim Leonis.

"It's very shortsighted and a real shame economically for the city," says Sitler.

St. Louis isn't alone in shortsightedness. Kansas City's film office is on the endangered list as well, says Jerry Jones, director of the Missouri Film Commission. The city has agreed to fund the office until April 30, 2002, with just one full-time staffer. A board has formed, led by former Mayor Richard Berkley, to seek funding beyond next year.

In St. Louis, in the meantime, Jones plans for the state office to have "a higher presence ... to keep everything running as smoothly as possible." He's talking with Leonis and the CVC about plans to maintain the Film Office's Web site and its indispensable production guide, a listing for filmmakers to find everything they need in town, from caterers to film labs to stuntpeople (including one local professional who says he "can be hit by car").

The state has cut Jones' budget as well, by some 25 percent in these lean economic times. "They're not picking on us," says Jones. "They're hitting everybody." The state commission's current $110,000 operating budget, he says, "still gives us enough to operate and do what we need to do and help out where we need to help out."

Jones says he's also been talking to J. Kim Tucci, head of the Missouri Film Commission board, about ways to fill in after the demise of the Film Office. Tucci did not return the RFT's phone call, but imagining the Pasta House king as a movie mogul, telling Spielberg to "forgetaboutit," has a certain cinematic appeal. Would he wear an eye patch?

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