Film commission founder seeks aid to promote area
He says he has contacts who might consider filming in the Valley.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The founder of the Western Reserve Film Commission said he has a line on two projects that could bring thousands of dollars to Mahoning County.
He also has an idea to create a film and television technical school here as well.
Richard Ouzounian recently told the county commissioners that he received an e-mail from some people he used to work with when he served in the White House about a talent agency that has a client who needs to film a project in the Midwest. This would be a 30-day production.
Ouzounian said he is willing to pitch the county as the place the client can use.
"We will supply them with the locations they need," he said. "If this all comes to fruition, the client will bring their film crews with them. These people will need some place to eat three times a day and some place to stay."
The crew could be as many as 150 people, he said, and about $500,000 could be added to the local economy during the crew's 30-day stay here.
He also has been in contact with another production company that wants to film in the Valley.
But Ouzounian needs more financing to help reel these projects in.
He said he's pretty much funding the commission, which promotes the region for production of film, television shows and commercials. He said he and has been working 20 months without any consistent funding source.
"We're hoping the [county] commissioners will see the value of what we do and fund us," he said, adding this is another way to raise revenue for the county.
Funding would come from bed-tax revenue generated by those who stay in county hotels, motels and inns. The commission has received some money from the new county convention and visitor's bureau and the Columbiana County Port Authority.
"I have met with commissioners, and I think good things are going to happen," Ouzounian said. "They're looking for good things to talk about, and I think we really have a lot to offer here."
Ouzounian said he worked all eight years during President Clinton's administration and six months in the first term of President Bush handling the production and satellite feeds involving the presidents' speeches, trips and other video opportunities.
When filmmakers go on location, they often have to bring hundreds of people with them.
Ouzounian said, however, his idea of creating a training center could be another incentive for filmmakers to look at the county for location shots.
"We plan on setting up a film and television editing school. We will provide the training so local people can get jobs," he said. He said he could then tell filmmakers there are trained people right here that can do the job.
He said there is federal and state money available to start training people.
He proposes to locate the school on the seventh floor of 20 Federal Place, the former Phar-Mor Centre. The space was used by the former Phar-Mor Productions, which produced commercials for the deep discount retail chain.
"I've been in discussions with the city about getting that space," Ouzounian said.
Ouzounian also has contacted state lawmakers to introduce legislation similar to what was passed in Louisiana's general assembly about two years ago.
He said Louisiana's lawmakers passed a law providing tax credits and other incentives to lure the film industry there. As a result of those incentives, some $250 million in film production has been done in Louisiana.
State Sen. Marc Dann of Liberty, D-32nd, said lawmakers were trying to insert language in the proposed two-year, $51 billion state budget to fund local film commissions.
Dann also said a bill was being prepared to provide tax incentives to film producers to make films in Ohio.
"Combined with the marketing we would do, the state incentives, plus the training school, this county won't know what his it," he said.