Interest in filming in West Virginia continued to grow in 2010 as a result of the recruiting efforts of the West Virginia Film Office. "The largest motion picture to ever film in the state was certainly the highlight of the year," said Pam Haynes, director of the film office. After considering locations in numerous other states and being sold on the competiveness of the WV Film Industry Investment Act, Paramount Pictures chose Weirton for J.J. Abrams' much-anticipated "Super 8."
Set in the late 1970s, the streets of Weirton, and other locations throughout the Northern Panhandle, were turned into the fictional town of Lillian, Ohio, for several weeks of filming last fall. Haynes said Paramount also returned to Weirton last week for a couple extra days of filming. Paramount has set June 10 for the theatrical release of the film, including IMAX theaters. Haynes said that those who tuned into last night's Super Bowl would have seen the premiere of the film's second teaser. The teaser and a recent interview with Abrams are available at http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2011/02/06/super-8-j-j-abrams-2/.
In September, the makers of Degree Deodorant filmed a three-part series, for both television and Internet broadcast, in Nicholas and Fayette counties. The production company, Science + Fiction, hired local workforce and used the services of local vendors for the shoot, which featured Bear Grylls of 'Man vs. Wild' accepting challenges from NFL player Mark Sanchez, NBA star Kevin Durant, and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.
The series, titled 'The Degree Men Chain of Adventure Challenge,' is hosted by pro-hockey alumni Mark Messier and is available for viewing at www.degreemen.com. The challenges, which Grylls and Messier were present for at the locations, were filmed at the Canyon Doors section of the Gauley River, Summersville Lake's Long Point Trail, and Kessler private airport in Lansing.
"For the Gauley River segment, Science + Fiction took advantage of an incentive promoted by the West Virginia Film Office known as River On Demand™," said Jamie Cope, location services manager for the film office. "This is a great service made possible through the cooperation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Huntington District," Cope said. The Corps offers film office clients the opportunity to request increases or decreases in water flow during certain times of the year, and particularly, during the drawdown of Summersville Lake for winter pool levels.
A couple of high profile productions that filmed in the state in 2009 had their premieres in 2010. "Unstoppable," a 20th Century Fox film starring Denzel Washington, and the ABC reality show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" enjoyed domestic box office returns of more than $80 million and good television ratings, respectively.
While most of "Unstoppable," which is about a rail company frantically working to prevent an unmanned freight train carrying combustible liquids and poisonous gas from wiping out a city, was filmed in Pennsylvania, six days of filming occurred in various locations in the Northern Panhandle, including Benwood and Follansbee. Many of the cast and crew stayed at Oglebay Resort, and the production also utilized various services at the Ohio County Airport in Wheeling.
"Food Revolution," which was filmed entirely in and around Huntington, picked up an Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program at the Aug. 29, 2010, ceremony. ABC renewed the show for a second season, and filming is already underway in Los Angeles. During filming, the show opened "Jamie's Kitchen" on Third Avenue as an outlet for people to learn more about healthier food options as well as to learn cooking skills. Subsequently, with generous financial donations from Cabell-Huntington Hospital, Ebenezer Medical Outreach took control of the operations, renamed it Huntington's Kitchen, and has continued to fulfill the goals of the Food Revolution.
Haynes says that 2011 is showing early signs of another successful year for filming opportunities. "We are currently working with several production companies that have plans to shoot independent feature films around the state." A low budget film is planning to shoot a feature in the New River Gorge region during the spring and a couple ultra low-budget films are set for the Wheeling region later this winter and fall. "If there are persons with experience working on film or television sets that are not yet listed in our production directory, they should contact our office soon to get registered," Haynes added.
The film office is particularly proud to announce the recent launch of its on-line locations library. Powered by Reel-Scout™, Cope said the searchable library currently contains more than 17,000 images of hundreds of diverse locations around the state. "Each image is categorized by type and keywords to help prospective clients search myriad ways for a perfect location." It also offers interactive mapping through Google and live weather data through The Weather Channel, Cope added.
Haynes stressed that another powerful, value-added component of Reel-Scout is something the public will not see. "Project Management and Contacts Management components are integrated with the Locations Management component to provide our office with a comprehensive product that has been designed specifically for film offices," Haynes said about Reel-Scout. Haynes added that this was a massive project that has taken a couple of years for a small staff to tackle, including a couple of designated temporary employees to assist. Cope chimed in that this is an ever-growing product and there are still several thousand images waiting to be uploaded and categorized, but "the time is right to launch the library now."
Cope also said that it's important to note a second powerful, value-added component. "Reel-Scout recently launched a national, one-stop search component enabling a user to conduct a nationwide search for filming locations from Reel-Scout's website." Cope added that this new feature will search all of the images contained in the location libraries of all Reel-Scout™ clients, thus providing West Virginia even more exposure and opportunities to recruit business.
"It also seems to be the right time to announce the launch of the film office's Facebook page," Haynes said. "We are hopeful that our page will offer better opportunities for our workforce to connect and share news and other bits of interesting information." Friends may follow the film office at http://www.wvfilm.com/facebook.
The West Virginia Film Office is a section under the WV Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, and can be visited at www.wvfilm.com.