This editorial appeared in the McCook Daily Gazette.
Garrison Keillor’s fictional hometown is described as “the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.”
We’re sure even Lake Wobegon has a community improvement committee to make it a better place to live, but preservation is high on their list of priorities as well.
That pays off for small towns when Hollywood producers are looking for locations for certain types of movies, such as the critically acclaimed “Nebraska,” now showing in limited release around the country, directed by Omaha native Alexander Payne.
You may remember some of Payne’s earlier films, “Citizen Ruth,” “Election” and, most probably, “About Schmidt,” featuring Jack Nicholson’s RV trek across the state including a visit to the Kearney Archway, Carhenge in Alliance and a hot-tub scene with Kathy Bates.
“Nebraska” stars Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb and Bob Odenkirk. Shot in black and white, the film centers around Dern’s character, who believes he’s won a sweepstakes ticket and must travel from his Billings, Mont., home to Lincoln, Neb., to collect his winnings. His son (Forte) joins him on this journey that detours through Hawthorne, Neb., the father’s hometown.
Since Hawthorne doesn’t really exist, the film crew spent 30 days on location in towns like Plainview, Stanton, Elgin, Tilden, Osmond, Hooper, Lyons and Lincoln.
A significant portion of the film’s $13.5 million budget was spent in Nebraska, featuring 21 Nebraskans cast in roles and an additional 227 hired as extras. Fifty-six crew members worked on the film, and security personnel were on location for 36 days.
“A typical day of filming on location for this size budget could range anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000,” said Laurie Richards, film officer for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. “If this is averaged out over the course of 30 days of shooting in Nebraska, approximately $1.5 million of new money was infused into the local economy.
“Not only that, but consider how significant the impact on Norfolk and surrounding towns in terms of the number of local residents hired, purchases of food, lodging, hardware, in addition to location fees, truck and car rentals, gas, and other sundry items necessary for physical production.”
Intangible benefits not only include “free” marketing, branding and publicity for the state but also extensive interest among the arts and entertainment industry, such as Dern appearing on “CBS Sunday Morning,” Forte on late-night television and Payne on National Public Radio.
There’s a good chance the publicity will only increase. Dern won a best actor award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival in May, and the Independent Spirit Awards nominated the film in several categories.
“Not only does this bode well for Oscar nominations coming out in 2014, but it’s (the) best free publicity we could ever hope to generate for Nebraska,” Richards said. “We may not have Hollywood knocking on our door, but we definitely have piqued the interest of independent filmmakers and companies.”
Added Richards, “It’s a sensitive movie that Payne calls a ‘comedy.’ It contains scenes and dialogue we have all experienced and touches on poignant human elements that make it one of the best films of this year.”
No, Nebraska isn’t poised to become the next Hollywood, but we do have our own unique culture and atmosphere worth sharing with the rest of the world.