Illinois vs. Missouri, 
The battle for Reagan

Friday, June 12th, 2009 | Movie Scripts

States jockeying for film that stars Lowell Park


An article appeared in the Sauk Valley Newspaper last weekend detailing the latest details of Mike’s Lowell Park movie script. Fundraising for the movie is going very well and things are almost in place.

The article is as follows:

You might think that a movie about Ronald Reagan’s days in Lowell Park, taken from a book titled “Lowell Park” and itself titled “Lowell Park,” would be filmed in Lowell Park.

lowellparkbookWell, not so fast.

The Show Me state also is vying for a piece of the action.

It all comes down to the money, and who’s willing to put up more of it.

L.A.-based Empire Film Group plans to turn a local author Mike Chapman’s book, about a college student who time-travels back to the area and meets a young lifeguard named Dutch Reagan – into a major motion picture.

Empire estimates it will cost about $5 million to produce the film. Although the company already has a script – written by Chapman – and plans to release the film in time for Reagan’s 2011 centennial celebration, Executive Producer Jim Townsend said he won’t officially announce that the movie is a go until the full $5 million has been raised.

The group would prefer to shoot it in Dixon, Townsend said.

Aside from the obvious authenticity a Lowell Park shoot would bring, there also are monetary considerations: Illinois this year upped its tax credit for filmmakers to 30 percent, putting it in the top five most competitive states in the nation, said Betsy Steinberg, managing director of the Illinois Film Office.

And then there’s Chicago. Industry officials agree the city boasts the largest pool of available talent and equipment outside of Los Angeles and New York City.

“Lowell Park has a very perfect setting for what we want to accomplish,” Townsend said. “There’s the proximity to Chicago, and also [there’s] the historical accuracy.”

The problem is, other states also would like to net the cache – and money – such a film would bring.

“The reason everybody’s so competitive is because the movie industry brings a huge amount of revenue in,” Steinberg said. “It’s contributed, for the last couple of years, around $150 million into the state’s coffers, despite the economy tanking.”

That’s not counting the long-term boost a movie could provide local tourism.

“People want to come and see where the celebrities were – it just will change the tourism for many years,” said Donna Johnson, an executive producer of the film and the vice president of Beecher Public Relations.

Johnson said she has “verbal commitments” for the full amount. She wants to do better than a handshake deal, though. So she’s trolled Iowa – “but we just haven’t been able to get anywhere with the investors” – and Missouri.

Missouri took the bait.

In fact, she said, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder called her. One of the lieutenant governor’s goals while in office is to bring in more feature films to the state, Johnson said.

“Kinder was very interested and very enthusiastic,” she said. “The call lasted quite a while and he asked a lot of questions … and didn’t guarantee anything.”

But he told her he had “a few names” and “some people” he wanted to approach about funding the film, Johnson said, including radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh’s brother, David, was on the conference call, Johnson said.

“Rush Limbaugh’s brother was more guarded but very interested,” she said. “In our eyes, he’s a potential investor; in his eyes, he’s just asking questions. He really wants to find out is this something worthy of presenting to Rush.”

A hefty investor could tip the scales in Missouri’s favor, she said.

Hitting up other states for investors can mean the film company loses its say in location choice, Johnson said.

“Whoever funds it has the say over that,” Johnson said. “If Kinder ends up bringing in the investors, his requirement would be that it be filmed [in Missouri].”

Kinder did not return calls to his office seeking comment.

Although Missouri offers a greater tax credit for filmmakers than Illinois – 35 percent compared to 30 percent – it caps the total dollar amount it will kick to filmmakers each year, whereas Illinois does not.

“We’re trying to be aggressive, but we’ve got neighbors like Illinois and Iowa and Michigan that have no caps in their programs,” said Jerry Jones, director of the Missouri Film Office.

“And, unlike Chicago, which has a great infrastructure, we aren’t to that level yet. Chicago certainly has an advantage there.”

Still, Johnson said she hopes the Lowell Park movie will be filmed at its namesake.

“We just want to see the film done right,” she said. “What it’s coming down to is where the funding is coming from.”

The good news for Dixon? Johnson hasn’t yet heard back from Kinder or Limbaugh, 3 weeks after their phone conversation.

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