Produce Iowa: A best friend to filmmakers and television producers

Produce Iowa This photo was shot in a barn near the Stratford area while the crew was working on a short film called Mushtown. Photo courtesy of Liz Gilman.

Because of its hospitality, convenience and prices, television producers and filmmakers love shooting in Iowa.

“Shutting a road down in LA is a bit of a hassle, but shutting one down here usually isn’t that big of a deal” Liz Gilman—Executive Producer of Produce Iowa—says. “And we’re very hospitable.

“The key is getting people here and they stay.”

Produce Iowa is part of Iowa’s Department of Cultural Affairs with the Iowa Arts Council and the State Historical Society. Gilman has been the executive producer since it was started by former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in 2013.

Gilman is responsible for facilitating media production and connecting the resources and solutions in Iowa to producer’s wants and needs.

She points producers and directors to an online database that has locations with pictures from old barns, school houses, main streets and more. There are also links to production tools, permits and grants.

“I have a database of locations with different property owners who want to be the next, ‘” Field of Dreams,'” Gilman says. “We supply the platform and it’s free so somebody with a house or business can create your own listing on our website so producers can see what your property looks like. All Iowans have a chance to be part of the industry.”

What attracts out-of-state producers

Gilman said after CNN reporters visited Iowa while covering the Caucuses, they returned after writing the political comedy series Embeds.

“The reason they are here is they came about a year ago from Los Angeles to shoot a series about journalists being embedded in the political process,” Gilman explained.

Gilman said the same producers of Embeds were producing another television series— Play by Play—when they stumbled upon Roosevelt High School.

“So I connected them to the school and they just stayed here and shot eight episodes,” Gilman said. “I just met with the producer and he estimated they had a $4 million direct spend into our economy over the last year.”

Gilman says she will get calls from national advertising agencies for commercials or projects like House Hunters International and American Pickers.

And while Gilman works to attract television producers with million dollar projects, she says Iowa has a strong presence of independent filmmakers.

The ‘Film Lounge’

To encourage Iowans to enter the film industry Gilman and Produce Iowa started The Film Lounge—on Iowa Public Television—that celebrates the work of Iowa filmmakers.

Gilman said they’ve had three episodes since launching in February and she’s working on a student edition because you must be 18 to submit a film.

“There’s a lot of great young talent that we don’t want to exclude,” Gilman says.

To expand on a student edition of The Film Lounge, Gilman said she’s identified 26 media departments in Iowa colleges and universities to work with that can add more workforce and professional development opportunities for students.

“So if you are a senior you can go job shadow a film happening,” Gilman says. “Just so they can learn some of the real world business experience to get people to learn and hopefully stay here to have jobs.”