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Film industry helps Kansas City rebound from COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 4:27 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 18:02:51-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While movies and TV shows have helped many people get through the past year, the film industry also is helping Kansas City rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was just over a year ago when film sets shut down as the virus continued to spread.

At the time, Isaac Alongi and Sandra Martin, a filmmaking husband-wife duo from Kansas City, had a lot of projects on tap. Almost overnight, they were all put on pause.

"We sat at home for several months trying to figure out how to re-juggle our schedule,"Alongi said.

Even when Kansas City allowed productions to restart in May, film sets looked a lot different. Alongi and Martin scaled their crews from 30 or 40 people down to about six.

"Everyone wore a lot of hats," Alongi said.

Steph Shannon, director of the KC Film Office, is responsible for recruiting productions to come film in Kansas City. Her office led the way in creating a blueprint for getting film sets back up and running.

She said that while larger cities, like New York and Los Angeles, stayed shut down, Kansas City was able to attract some productions that would have filmed there, in part, because of innovative safety protocols.

"The safety guidelines we put out, [we] were one of the first film offices that did that," Shannon said. "So we had a lot of other film offices reach out and ask if they could utilize our guidelines.".

The 54-page document covers everything from cleaning protocols to scene restrictions to establishing an Infection Prevention Compliance Supervisor on the crew.

Now that productions are underway again, Shannon and Alongi both said they believe the film industry will play a vital role in Kansas City's overall rebound from the pandemic, from providing jobs to pouring money into local businesses.

"We are bringing actors in staying at hotels, we're hiring local crew, we're buying out locations," Alongi said. "It does bring a lot of money into the local Kansas City economy."

A bonus, according to Shannon, is exposure.

"You know, Kansas City and our region are seen on screens around the U.S., if not around the world," Shannon said.

Kansas City will soon be featured on the big screen in Alongi's latest project, "Finding Love in San Antonio." As the name suggests, the film is set in San Antonio, but it's being shot in Kansas City.

Shannon said there are countless scripts that call for settings that look at lot like locations in Missouri and Kansas. However, the states are at a disadvantage because they don't offer a film production incentive.

More than 30 states offer such an incentive, like a tax credit, rebate or grant, including most of the states surrounding Kansas and Missouri. So if a production is trying to decide between filming here or a state with an incentive, most times, the state with the incentive will win out.

Kansas City has its own local incentive program, offering up to a 10% rebate for film productions. But Shannon said a statewide program is needed to give more rural towns a chance at landing these productions.

"There are so many scripts that have rural settings and small town settings," Shannon said. "I can't tell you how many I've worked with and read the script and it's like, again, a small town, a quaint, small town. "Think about it, like every Hallmark movie, that's a quaint small town every single time. So [an incentive] equalizes everybody."

Missouri's last incentive program expired in 2013. The last film to use it was the box office hit, "Gone Girl," which filmed in Cape Girardeau.

Every year since the program expired, a bill has been introduced at the statehouse to implement a new one, but so far, none have passed.

This year, there were film incentive bills in both the House and Senate when the legislative session ended last week. 41 Action News reached out to the bills' sponsor to see whether they have a chance of moving forward.

Even without that program, Shannon said, Kansas City's reputation as a safe and innovative market makes it attractive to filmmakers. Her office already gas worked with more than 60 productions this year, from commercials to independent films. This week, she's hosting a scout for a Netflix-based show.

"I find that our industry here is really hopeful that we're making great stuff right now, and that we'll continue to do that," she said, "and that Kansas City is attracting the attention of the industry at large."

Alongi agreed that Kansas City's film scene is on the rise.

"There's a lot of stories and pre-production that was going on when the pandemic hit, and people are really excited to make and tell those stories," he said. "So I feel like the film industry in general is going to explode. And Kansas City is a cool place for that to happen."