A new Minnesota feature film wrapped up shooting over the weekend in the Twin Cities. "The Convincer," starring Greg Kinnear and Alan Arkin, is the latest project by Minneapolis-based Werc Werk Works. Yet even as the cameras rolled, state legislators debate the future of the state's Film and Television Board.
"The Convincer's" script calls for wintry weather. The crew certainly got that last week, shooting in the bitter wind outside the Ramada Inn near Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport.
The camera followed actor Greg Kinnear striding across the parking lot in one of the last shots in the film. Kinnear plays an insurance salesman trying to make some easy money in a shady deal over a violin. But he soon finds himself in a lot of trouble.
Kinnear says he loved the intricate script.
"It takes place in a very small world, but it's a big story," he said at a press conference during the shoot. "A lot is happening at any given moment. They've laid in fantastic detail, and I think it's a hell of a great ride."
Kinnear's co-star Alan Arkin agrees. He plays a farmer whose inadvertent involvement in the violin scam complicates matters. Arkin says the story changed for him when he re-read the script.
"The first time, I didn't know it was a comedy. The second time it became a comedy," said Arkin. "And I think that's what will happen to an audience. I think that people that like it the first time will want to see it again, and realize it's a completely different film from what they saw the first time."
Arkin and Kinnear have a track record together, with the award-winning "Little Miss Sunshine." Their involvement in "The Convincer" was critical to getting financing for the film.
The reasons it's being shot in Minnesota are a little more complicated.
The story is set in Wisconsin, but producers Elizabeth Redleaf and Christine Walker of Werc Werk Works chose to shoot it in Minnesota. This is the company's fourth movie, but the first it has made in its home state.
Redleaf says it was most important that the location worked from a creative standpoint, but there were other factors.
"First of all, there is the talent here to support this film technically," she said.
Redlead says Wisconsin offers better tax incentives to filmmakers, but is still building its talent pool. She also says there was something very attractive about making a film at home, using local people to whom they feel some loyalty.
"We have 160 people out there that have been working for these 11 weeks. We would love to see them employed for all 365 days of the year," she said.
Werc Werk Works hasn't released the budget for "The Convincer," but company officials say their aim is to make films in the $1 million-$5 million range.
Tax rebates from Minnesota's Snowbate program also helped the "The Convincer's" producers decide to shoot here. But there is now some question as to whether those promises can be honored as a result of the state's projected budget deficit.
In his supplementary budget proposal, Gov. Pawlenty zeroed out the Snowbate program and the Minnesota Film and Television Board. Since then, Film Board Executive director Lucinda Winter says committees in both the state House and Senate have reinstated funding, although at a slightly lower level commensurate with cuts in other state agencies. She says that's a good sign.
"But there is absolutely no predicting how we will fare when we reach the governor's desk," she said.
Winter says if the Minnesota Film and Television Board does lose its funding, Minnesota will become the only state in the nation without a film commission. She says film and television work is annually a $225 million business in the state.
Back at "The Convincer" set, both Redleaf and Christine Walker predict that number would drop significantly without the film board to encourage film work and provide logistical help. Walker says she sees it as economic development.
"We as a company have decided that investing in the arts and entertainment industry is a smart thing to do, and that we will make money doing this," Redleaf said. "We also think that Minnesota should also consider arts and entertainment as something that we, as a state, should invest in."
Walker and Redleaf say their aim is to get "The Convincer" finished by the end of the summer, to premier at one of the big international festivals in the fall.
The fate of the film board will be considered by a legislative conference committee in the next week.