Correction: The name of the TV show Sarah Kunin sold to Magnolia Network is “Making Modern with Brooke and Brice.” The show’s name was wrong in a previous version of this story.
Look for a lot more lights, cameras and action over the next decade as Tennessee’s evolving film and television industry nears a pivotal era of unprecedented growth.
That’s the word from Bob Raines, executive director of the Tennessee Entertainment Commission.
Speaking during a recent “Create It In Tennessee” panel session at the Nashville Film Festival, Raines hinted at major developments “on the horizon” and through the next decade.
“The data shows we’re projected to grow in the film or the motion picture and video production sectors here about 12% to 15% over the next five years,” Raines said during the video conference. “So, we have impressive growth in front of us.
“I will also say that we have some infrastructure development on the horizon … studios specifically, because real estate has become extremely important (especially in Nashville) and a lot of folks that we’re talking to right now want to build out that infrastructure here in our state.
“When you look at our state, I want you to think of our state as a bedrock. We’re a bedrock of talent; we’re a bedrock of skilled labor. … It’s going to be solid and grow here for the next 10 years and beyond.”
Contacted on Wednesday, Raines expounded on his remarks.
“We are in several conversations. There really is not one specific company or project, but there are a few of them currently evolving. And those are from Memphis and also in Nashville,” said Raines, who operates out of the office of the governor under the Department of Economic and Community Development.
“Our workforce continues to grow. As our services continue to grow things like studios or campuses … maybe there’s a media campus versus studios where, here in our state, we have the capability to formulate multi-purpose campuses. And I think that’s what is unique anywhere from a film and television studio to music rehearsal.
“We look at a broad spectrum of entertainment and media here so, like I said, a lot of those conversations around how we build out infrastructure, where that’s going to be at, how that’s going to look, where does the state invest, how much should be invested from the private sector — all those conversations continue to be ongoing,
“We hope to see some more sticks coming out of the ground very soon. We are in talks with several different companies about infrastructure development that will certainly have a significant impact on our industry here.”
That’s welcome news for the state’s filmmakers and industry executives who have relied on the state’s incentive program to get their projects made.
“It’s always great to hear that things are going to continue to grow — which will allow us to shoot more, more and more,” said Shannon Houchins, CEO of Nashville’s Hideout Pictures and producer of the company’s latest new Western, “Old Henry,” which premiered Oct. 1 after a successful debut at the Venice Film Festival and will be available via Video On Demand starting Oct. 8.
Filmed in Watertown in January, “Old Henry” was written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli and stars Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze and Gavin Lewis with Trace Adkins and Stephen Dorff. It was produced in partnership with Shout Studios, the first of a three-film Western deal for the companies. Houchins said Hideout Pictures, a subsidiary of Average Joes Entertainment, will next film an untitled children’s horror story in November, then begin work on “Hardin,” the second in the Western trilogy.
“We made our first movie here in, like, 2011. The (state entertainment commission has) been massively supportive of us since then. The plan has always been for Hideout Pictures, being based in Tennessee, to shoot in Tennessee just as much as we possibly can — obviously, not just because we live here and we like to sleep in our beds,” Houchins said with a laugh.
“We’ve just got a great crew base and there’s a lot of great people here that we love working with. And just the state is a beautiful state. So there’s a lot of things to shoot here. It is great that the state has always been very supportive of everything we do and everything that other filmmakers in the state do as well.”
Curt Hahn, CEO of Film House and director/co-producer of 2012’s “Deadline” movie, explained the challenges state filmmakers have faced in the past and why he is cautiously optimistic about the future.
“The big-picture challenge for the film industry in the state of Tennessee is the fact that we have 95 counties and only a handful of those counties have a strong interest in the film industry,” said Hahn, whose World War I immersive experience for the National Museum of the United States Army recently opened in Fort Belvoir, Va.
“And since the vast majority of the state doesn’t see a lot of direct benefit from the film industry, it’s unlikely we’ll ever have strong film incentives the way Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico and so many other states do.
“It’s hard to argue with the math because you can do a large project and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions of dollars’ worth of incentives from, say, Georgia to film in their state,” said Hahn, who was not among the NFF panelists.
“The people who are putting up the money are going to make a really easy decision (and) say, ‘We can make the same film in Memphis or Nashville or we could film it in Atlanta and we’re going to save how much?’ And that’s the challenge we’re always going to have in Tennessee.
Hahn’s optimism about Nashville’s film future is based on what he knows. He said he is not authorized to divulge details, but that he expects a major announcement to be made later this year.
“There is one project that contradicts what I just said about not getting major projects here,” Hahn said. “This particular project would be a game-changer and I suspect it’s going to come to fruition and it is going to be announced later this year, before the first of the year.
“And while it will benefit from the state incentives, it’s not just dependent on the state incentives as is the typical project. And therefore, it could get done here. And I believe it will get done here.
“It will be the biggest economic development announcement in the film industry in probably in the whole 45 years I’ve lived in Nashville.”
Sarah Kunin, a three-time Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Award-winning television producer with nearly 15 years of experience before she moved here in 2018 as head of unscripted development for Riverside Entertainment, thinks Nashville’s movie/TV industry should aim for the stars.
That’s what she did, selling the show “Making Modern with Brooke and Brice” to the Magnolia Network which streams on Discovery+.
“I really, to be totally honest with you, had pretty low expectations. I didn’t think I was going to be able to continue to work in production in the way that I had in New York as a supervising producer at “Good Morning America.” And I will tell you that the past three years have been hands-down the most successful in my 15 years in this industry,” the NFF panelist said.
“So over the past year, we’ve been in production all through the pandemic, using all local crews,” Kunin added. “It’s been so incredible and inspiring to see how this community has really been able to produce an incredible show that’s on par with anything that you would see in New York or LA.
“So, yeah, I’ve really loved my time in Nashville so far. And working at Riverside, we continue to develop other projects as scripted and unscripted. We’ve had lots of success, so it’s been a really great time sort of being in the production industry here.”
‘We can offer everything
except an ocean’
Chris Conner, also a producer for Hideout Pictures (notably CMT sitcom “Still the King” starring Billy Ray Cyrus and the film “Howard’s Mill”), says the state has a lot to offer both incentive-wise and filming-wise.
“First of all, our state getting an incentives program and having Bob and his office being so helpful, that changed a lot of things,” Conner said. “We were able to bring television production and film production here. I mean, it’s always been here, there’s no question about that,” said Conner, a co-producer on “Old Henry.”
“But being competitive with other states helps tremendously when you’re talking to a network or a studio. The bottom line is important — as it is to everybody — and being able to have those funds available helps a great deal.”
Raines extolled the state’s natural beauty as a major reason to film in Tennessee.
“We have a diverse topography here. We can offer everything except for an ocean. I mean, that’s pretty much the bottom line. Other than that, no. We can offer people everything — cityscapes to rural to modern to historic. There’s really not anything,” he said.
Conner pointed to the state’s quality-of-life factor as a reason that so many cast and crew chose to move here after filming in Tennessee. That was certainly the case when the “Nashville” (2012-18) TV show filmed here. Many of those actors and crew members still reside here.
“One of the great things is every single time a large production series shoots here, what I notice is it typically draws people here,” Conner said.
“And because I think the quality of living in our state is so high, we retain people that normally we might not … people who realize, ‘Wow, I can buy a house and the income tax and all the different things that make it attractive for people to move here, I think we keep a lot of those people that way and that’s great.”
Vibrant culture and creative energy
That is part of the reason why three-time Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton reportedly plans to film an untitled script-to-series sitcom here for Fox.
In late July, “Deadline” reported that the project will be produced by Fox Entertainment and Aaron Kaplan’s Kapital Entertainment and that Heaton and David Hunt will “executive produce under their FourBoys Entertainment banner along with Adam Griffin as well as Kaplan and Michael Lohmann for Kapital Entertainment. Jessie Abbott is the executive in charge for Kapital,” the story stated. No date was given for when the project will get under way.
Heaton could not be reached for an update on the project, but told “Deadline” she was excited about filming in Nashville, where she has family and a residence.
“I’m looking forward to working with Fox on this series,” Heaton said. “I have gotten to know and love Nashville over the years while visiting my son and my sister there. It’s a wonderful city with an incredible quality of life, along with a vibrant culture and so much creative energy.
“I want to help support and grow the entertainment production business there and shooting a TV series in Nashville would provide hundreds of jobs for local cast and crew.”
So Tennesseans can expect a lot more of lights, camera, action in the near future.