Victoria Justice and Nickelodeon’s Fun Size film caravan are leaving town this week, after a month of transforming downtown Cleveland and several suburbs into a fictional place called “Westbrae.”
But the excitement continues as East Ninth Street becomes Manhattan for The Avengers beginning this week. The filmmakers promise plenty of fireballs and gunfire for your rubbernecking pleasure, plus the usual array of downtown panhandlers.
But what is it about Cleveland that makes us so easy to morph into just about anywhere else? And how exactly does this help our image? For one thing, our endearingly modest downtown bustle is way more accommodating than most other cities.
“They are closing down East Ninth for a month. Name another city where you can do that,” says Ivan Schwarz, executive director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission.
It’s not that New York and L.A. lack the look of bustling downtown streets. It’s just that their streets are filled with actual bustle, which tends to get in the way.
But for Schwarz, the momentum created by the Ohio film tax credit that kicked in two years ago signals the start of a new industry for Cleveland. Of the 27 films approved for the credit, 21 are slated to film in Northeast Ohio.
Though he has no way to prove it, Schwarz estimates the 2011 balance sheet will show that $90 to $100 million was poured into the city thanks to this summer’s crews. Fun Size alone hired between 150 and 200 locals.
“People hired is good for Cleveland. The economic impact is really good for Cleveland. Just because a movie doesn’t take place in Cleveland, who cares?” he says. “They are helping us create an industry.”
Schwarz intends to make that industry permanent by encouraging film-related technical and service businesses to start up or relocate here. “We’re about creating long-term jobs and long-term benefits, and keeping young people in Cleveland,” he says. “The film industry caters to young people.”
And as long as the tax credit keeps Hollywood coming, there may be a chance for a Cleveland film industry. After all, as Schwarz points out, the only places that can’t be shot here are mountains and deserts. But give us time.
(Further reading: Here's a list of all the films so far to receive a tax credit from Ohio, and here's the Plain Dealer's lengthy piece on the possible benefits and pitfalls of forking over money to Hollywood.)