Lack of infrastructure challenges W.Va. filmmakers

Oct 9, 2013

Miracle Boy

Miracle Boy, a film about a young boy who is injured in a farming accident and then bullied by other boys, took home Best Short film at the West Virginia Filmmaker’s Festival this past weekend.  Producer Jason Brown said he will always be a West Virginia filmmaker despite his Georgia address. The movie  was shot in Greenbrier County.

Dialogue is limited in the short film Miracle Boy, filled instead with sounds of West Virginia mountain country.

The movie was featured at Concord University last week. Concord student Cassandra Molchanoff  said it brought her new appreciation for film.

“It definitely made me feel at home when I was watching it,” she said.

The storyline follows a young boy who is injured in a farming accident and then bullied by other boys. But more than that, producer Jason Brown said it’s about doing the right thing.

“The story was about a young boy taking accountability for his actions,” he said. "I think at the end of the day what we were trying to get across is the humanity in that one young boy and seeing his mistake and making up for it.”

Bullying has made national headlines in recent years after pushing some children to commit suicide and West Virginia is not immune. Although it wasn’t Brown’s intention, Miracle Boy has been used by counselors and anti-bullying advocates across the country.

Molchanoff plans to show it to other students at Concord.

“I am so passionate about anti-bullying because I see it here at Concord’s campus," she said. "The fact that it goes from that age and it just continues to build even into college; this film is a definite example that you can use to show that it’s not what you want to do."

"Bullying is so hard and it really puts a damper on someone’s life so I’m definitely going to use this film as an RA to do anti-bullying."

Miracle Boy premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2012 and won the Top Grit prize for best overall film at the 2013 Indie Grits Film Festival.

Brown is a native West Virginian and Concord graduate. He currently teaches communication courses at Valdosta State University in Georgia, but stays true to his roots by encouraging West Virginians to see past and beyond the mountainous borders.

“We often don’t fulfill our own sort of possibility because here in Southern West Virginia a lot of times we get sort of stuck in the mountains," Brown said. "We don’t’ see what’s really possible and you have to believe in what’s there. You have to see it and then believe yourself. And then the other half of that really I believe is create your own opportunities.”

States across the country offer different levels and types of tax incentives to filmmakers. While states like North Carolina are debating whether to continue giving tax breaks and how big they should be, West Virginia’s program is relatively underused.

The director of the West Virginia Film Office, Pam Haynes, said just last year Governor Earl Ray Tomblin spearheaded an effort to reduce the amount of money offered through the Film Industry Investment Act- which was originally $10-million.  

“Our program had yet to surpass $5-million in any of the tax years since it was implemented," Haynes said, "than it made sense to have that reduced to $5-million."

The program offers about a 30 percent tax credit to filmmakers based on the cost of a film, with a minimum spending requirement of $25,000. The filmmaker can also file for a four percent bump by hiring 10 or more West Virginia residents.

Jason Brown is familiar with filmmaker tax credits in several states and said West Virginia’s is one of the most competitive.

“This is a good thing," he said, "but it tends to be like everything else; why would we put this much aside if not enough people are actually using it."

"We need to be using it. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great resource. I’m not thinking we’re going to have the Walking Dead show up in Buchannan or anything but it could. Why not?”

Brown hopes more people will realize the opportunity for filmmaking in the mountains of West Virginia.

“The two best things we have going for us with "Miracle Boy" it’s pretty and the sound is amazing," he said. "But I’ll tell ya what, it was real easy. All we had to do is just point the camera because so much of Greenbrier County is beautiful you just had to point the camera in the right direction and turn the microphone on.”

Still Brown suspects the biggest challenge or barrier for filmmakers in the state, is the same as it is for him … infrastructure.

“So much of the industry anymore you don’t have to be in Hollywood," he said, "but if we don’t have the internet, we don’t have the air flights."

"If there is the investment here I will stay. I will come running back.”

“We have a lot of people who can do things from here and touch the world. They all want to come back and make movies but what they need is investors, they need support. Gosh just in general we need West Virginians to support West Virginia, more and more.”

Bringing broadband to the mountain state is a work in progress. The West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council exists and now has a website meant to help bring affordable broadband to unserved areas of the state.

The festival run of Miracle Boy is expected to end after two more screening. The short film will show in California on Sunday. An announcement for the location of the final showing has not been made yet.

Miracle Boy was based on the short story by writer Pinkney Benedict. Jake Mahaffy was the director.