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Amelia 2.0 premieres, shows what’s possible for Iowa filmmaking

Amelia 2.0 premieres August 4th.

Friday night, Cedar Rapids residents will get their first look at a film written and shot in the corridor, with eastern Iowa residents driving the project to completion. But the novelty of projects like the movie Amelia 2.0 showcases how Iowa is being left behind by other states.

Iowa is one of only a handful of states that doesn’t provide any kind of tax credit, rebate or grant program for projects shot in the state. It’s been that way since 2009, when an aggressive tax credit program was abandoned after the money was misused. The person in charge of the program, Tom Wheeler, was convicted of criminal charges, and six state officials lost their jobs.

In 2013, Produce Iowa popped up in the Department of Cultural Affairs. The program’s Executive Producer, Liz Gilman, can’t give out any financial support, but she’s the driving force behind getting producers to take their projects to the heartland.

One of the most popular movies of all time gave Iowa one of the most memorable lines.

Liz Gilman lives the idea behind, “if you build it, they will come,” building an infrastructure in Iowa, trying to make movie producers and TV shows flock to Iowa.

“I act like a concierge for productions or even local people who want locations,” said Gilman. “They contact me and I connect them.”

The Produce Iowa website connects you to Liz, pitches locations all around the state and allows Iowans trying to get on a production to submit their information.

One of the latest success stories is the Cedar Rapids-centric Amelia 2.0. It’s based off the play, The Summerland Project, written by Cedar Rapids’ own Rob Merritt.

It became popular on stage at Theatre Cedar Rapids, before filmmaker Adam Orton, also from Cedar Rapids, adapted it to the screen.

The actor playing the title character, Angela Billman, is another local connection.

Orton says on set, local enthusiasm helped, along Produce Iowa spreading the work that the film was being shot in town.

“It shows everyone working on the film from the ground up that they were working on something special,” said Orton.” We’ve had some pretty seasoned actors who said this was one of the most exciting sets they’ve ever been on just because the community was aware of it…In Los Angeles, you don’t get that.”

There’s other recent successes for Gilman and Produce Iowa.

She says an election-themed show, Embeds, came to Iowa for a pilot episode and shot a handful more before they left. That opened the door to other productions just because Liz says people love the state.

“They actually turned down incentives in another state to stay and work in Iowa,” said Gilman. “So that’s a win for Iowans because of the beautiful locations, we’re a right to work state.”

But, the way to a move producer’s heart is through his budget, and other states are making an appeal to a production’s bottom line.

Iowa is one of only about 15 states that doesn’t give any kind of tax rebate, credit or grant to productions since the scandal in 2009.

Amelia 2.0 chose Iowa anyway because Orton says it would have felt wrong to shoot it anywhere else. Because of their local ties, they got a lot of in-kind donations that make the movie possible. But for all the other films that don’t have that emotional connection, Iowa will likely be left behind.

“If you want productions to come now, you need tax rebates,” said Orton. “Not many producers would say, ‘Let’s go to Iowa.”

The Produce Iowa website also has a page showing filmmakers a handful of grants they can apply for. It’s money that could help productions make a better product, but none of it makes them invest time or resources in Iowa.

Amelia 2.0’s trailer got shared hundreds of times and seen by thousands of eyeballs. Adam says that’s why they picked Iowa.

“People were pausing every frame to see if they could recognize something in it,” said Orton. “That’s indicative of what we’ll see when it premieres and that’s the difference between a movie that was made somewhere in Iowa and a movie that was made from Iowa.”

Adam says after shooting wrapped up, a handful of people reached out to him and said being part of Amelia 2.0 got them interested in filmmaking. He says he hopes that means he’s helped plant a seed to get others interested down the road.

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