Minnesota: a hidden market for film and television talent

Alexius Horatius/Wikipedia

New head of Minnesota Film and TV Board promotes opportunities

“When filmmakers, networks and producers consider Minnesota as a location,” says Melodie Bahan, new executive director of the Minnesota Film and TV Board (www.mnfilmtv.org), “they’re thinking about snow and Norwegians. A lot of them may not be aware of what a rich community of artists of color is here in the Twin Cities and in Minnesota.” Bahan wants to change that.

“Someone like Kevin Hart, for instance, will be here in August,” she continues. “He has a production company and a deal with Comedy Central. Unless he’s spent any time here, he won’t know [there are many] actors and filmmakers [and] that the talent is here. I want to help shift the state’s image and really highlight the great people working here, which I don’t think the film and television industry is well aware of.”

It’s one thing to cite a problem, but how does Bahan intend to go about fixing it and raising that awareness? “For one example,” she points out, “E. G. Bailey did a short film this year that went to Sundance, and he’s the kind of filmmaker who ought to be nurtured, promoted and talked about.”

Melodie Bahan (Dwight Hobbes/MSR News)

Indeed, that arguably is an understatement. Husband-and-wife team Bailey and Shá Cage — lead actor in New Neighbors and virtual legends in Twin Cities theatre and performance art — are already internationally renowned as founders of Minnesota Spoken Word Association.

Bahan said they’re an excellent example of veteran talent that the board would do well to get behind and push to national production companies and distributors who possess the kind of deep pockets that make careers. It would put filming locales on the industry map.

Bailey observes, “It’s vital…to bring production companies here. There is [a] reservoir of stories and talent, and there are more Minnesota connected films, and Minnesota connected people in the industry than most people know.

“Production companies like Werc Werk Works and River Road Entertainment are here, [as are] Craig Rice, who produced and directed Half Past Autumn, the Gordon Parks documentary, [and] Michael Starrbury, who is working with Ava Duvernay on the upcoming Battle of Versailles.

He adds, “[There is] Native filmmaker Lyle Mitchell Corbine, Jr., whose short film was chosen for Sundance this year, in addition to being selected for the Sundance Lab. And this is just a tiny tip of the iceberg.

(l-r) E.G. Bailey and Sha Cage (Photo courtesy of BFresh Photography/Facebook/E.G. Bailey)

“Another promising prospect Bahan expressed excitement about is Dame-Jasmine Hughes and Chaz Shermil Hodges’ sitcom ANGRY BLACK B@&$%#!, which recently received a reading by The New Griots Festival at the Guthrie Theater.

“It’s set in the Twin Cities. [The creators] are so smart and so driven. Their work is incredible. They’re looking to land a deal and they are committed to shooting it here, hiring local talent, hiring local crew. Jasmine and Chaz are doing everything right. They’re talking to the right people, to IFP about resources to help get their show off the ground.”

She sums up, “There’s a lot of potential here that is going untapped.” Underscoring her reference to other markets, Breaking Bad shot for years in Albuquerque, and Walking Dead has been filming in Georgia since 2010. Also, Dexter, for eight seasons was a long-running field day for Miami and Los Angeles, not to mention hosts of Latino/Latina actors and extras.

The 2014 movie Dear White People was filmed in Minnesota

Which isn’t to say Minnesota has been altogether ignored with principal photography for feature release. Dear White People (Lionsgate) was shot here, including Minneapolis, St. Paul and University of Minnesota locations. Also, the television show Fargo (FX) utilized Bemidji and other cities. There simply is great room for growth.

Why did Bahan seek out this position? “Throughout my career, I’ve focused on a number of things but underlying all of it has been advocacy and promotion. This [position], which is all about jobs and spending, adds to what I’ve been doing the last five or six years, and that’s economic development. I want to promote Minnesota as a good place to do business, a good place to hire people, and a good place for artists and small business owners to grow and increase their incomes.

“I’m really excited about the potential for helping to develop the state economically. You compare the Minnesota film and television industry to some other states over the past five to 10 years and we have fallen behind.

“Look at Georgia, look at New Mexico, two states that have just been rocking in terms of television. They have series that are based there, that are shot there. You get a series that helps grow the infrastructure, helps grow the local talent and brings jobs through spending.”

Before taking the reins at Minnesota Film and TV Board in June, Bahan was vice president of communications for Artspace, and served as director of communications for the Guthrie Theater for 10 years. She presently serves on the board of the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The Minnesota Film and TV Board will conduct a Town Hall Meeting August 17, 5:30 pm at IFP Minnesota, 550 Vandalia St., Suite 120 in Saint Paul to introduce Executive Director Melodie Bahan to the public.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes readers’ responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.