Last weekend my film commission office, Film COOP, hosted a bunch of female filmmakers for a destination weekend location tour and networking event.
As with our too long and klutzy legal name, the Cooperstown, Oneonta, Otsego County Film Partnership, Inc., the name Film COOP presents the Women in Film Peak Leaf Weekend Location Tour and Networking Event soon fell by the wayside. The shorthand Women in Film Weekend, or even shorterhand WIF, became the usual references.
We had five official customers who signed up for the four-day event, plus three industry-connected board members who went on parts of the tour, a Delaware County union location scout who did one day of touring with us and our college intern, Ellie Pink, who is studying film at Boston University.
I am not being hyperbolic when I say I think the weekend was a life-changing event for the filmmakers.
I am sure it was for me, too.
The filmmakers ranged from college student to mid-60s in age. Their experience level varied from film festival darling to outsider artist with a skill for social media and a desire to do more. They were from California, Maryland and New York City. With the exception of the teamster, I would say all the filmmakers are on the climb in the business.
Three of the filmmakers submitted short films for us to choose from for a screening and it was an impossible choice to pick just one. All three got first-place votes!
We ultimately settled on a documentary about two octogenarians doing stand up comedy, appropriately titled, “Still Standing,” by Elizabeth Zephyrine McDonough, a writer-director-producer-comedy booker whose parents are from Cooperstown.
Elizabeth got a more impressive honor for her film about the same time we made our decision when she learned “Still Standing” was going to have a primetime spot Friday at the Woodstock Film Festival. She only missed a half day of the touring and was exhausted after all the events and tours, but I think it was an amazing weekend for her as a filmmaker.
In two days of touring we saw a dozen incredible potential film sites up close and another dozen or two on drivebys. Some of the filmmaker favorites were the Cary Mede estate in Springfield, Hyde Hall, the Fly Creek Cider Mill, Spring Park in Richfield Springs, the Main Streets in Richfield and Oneonta and our tours of the two qualified production facilities in the Mohawk Valley Economic Development District, Foothills Performing Arts Center in Oneonta and The Stanley Theatre in Utica.
The Stanley was one of the more impressive theaters they or I have even been in and we are grateful for its support for the little film commission next door. They are even hosting our local producer, Alysa Blasetti, for an upcoming concert where she is going to shadow their tech staff. That is a magic connection I can’t believe we were able to make for Alysa. Imagine how she feels!
I had a few regrets with the tour, the biggest being we had to scale back our original tour plans to fit into two days of trolley time. We barely scratched the surface of what we showed them in the places we went and especially the places we missed. We never did have Franklin or Sharon on our agenda, even though I know they would look great on the big screen. I had to cut Gilbertsville, Morris, Worcester and Cherry Valley when we starting planning by the hour and realized driving times alone were too much.
Still, I feel good knowing a bunch of filmmakers saw Richfield, Springfield, Schenevus, Maryland, Hartwick, Milford, Mount Vision, Edmeston and South Edmeston, and of course, Oneonta and Cooperstown.
We just could not let go of the idea of showing our filmmakers Cherry Valley and we kept trying to find a spot for an Origins Café visit, so we braved a little rain — thank you rain for waiting until Sunday! — and took a tour of the Sculpture Trail with Jane Sapinsky and friends before our farewell brunch. As a bonus, she took us to see the best view of the valley and also to the stunning Tuscarora farm.
Saturday, when Ellie got back from Boston to join our group, I prepped all the filmmakers on her history, including making an award-winning student film with one of our board members, JoAnn Gardner, who was her Media Team adviser at Cooperstown Central School, and on the idea Ellie wanted to work with women filmmakers next summer and in the future. I think she was on the trolley with us an hour before she had moved to the center of the group of women and was exchanging phone numbers and film talk, the group more experienced in the film world, but Ellie an expert in Otsego County.
Film COOP had great success helping our business partner, Otsego Media, land “Bring Him Back Dead” last summer, so that did produce jobs, but it occurred to me more than once Saturday, the first individual we get work for is likely to be our intern.
That is appropriate. Ellie, JoAnn and our board member Sierra Sangetti-Daniels share credit for making our event a huge success. The full board, Korey Rowe and the Marketing Committee and the Governance-Finance crew of Judy Pachter, Jeff Katz and Caitlin Ogden also deserve thanks and credit.
Korey had two exciting things happen to Otsego Media as the tour was planning. His film, “Asteroid,” debuted on Amazon and YouTube this month and he opened up an office on Main Street in Oneonta during the summer. He and his producer, Alysa, are both Oneonta natives and graduates and their success is inspiring.
All of which is to say our little film commission seems to have come through its infancy and the pandemic era strong — God willing we all stayed/will stay healthy; our filmmakers and our guests at events all maintained protocols as best they/we could — and will be building on this for years to come. I know I am head-in-the-clouds about a new project we concocted from the great “Hallmark like” locations on the tour and for an actor/model/filmmaker I met this week, Cheyenne Phillips, an L.A. native who wants to get away from the big city for a while and experience the City of the Hills while still thriving in her career.
Her story is familiar to us, of course, having lived it myself and having seen my board members, Korey and Dylan Avery, go through it, too. L.A. is expensive, exclusive, smoggy, hot, crowded and has traffic that will give a person panic attacks. And climate change isn’t going to make it a better place to live. We know if we can build the entertainment business in Otsego County, more people like us will see the beauty, the quality of life and the access to the industry as reasons to settle here, and open their production offices, on Main Street, or in the future Cooperstown Film Studios (Maryland campus).
This weekend we took a big step forward in that process, showing our filmmakers personally how great Otsego County is and can be for its closeups. Thank you to Otsego County for looking its best (a week or so short of peak, but still gorgeous). Thank you to Otsego County’s micro-grant program, the C.J. Heilig Foundation and our business partners, executive producers, movie stars, other donors and board members for subsidizing the trip. Thank you to the Community Foundation of Otsego County, via Otsego 2000, for funding a diversity inclusion scholarship, and for teaming with Otsego Now to buy us boxes of PPE.
I am blessed. When we started the film commission office in January of 2020, after years of discussions about it, I never could have believed how quickly we would grow, how much support we would get from the Otsego community and how many like-minded allies I would find in the area.
I hope this isn’t the last column I will write about our great success at Film COOP, but if it is I want everyone to know building the film industry here is something that will benefit the region in so many ways. I am grateful to each individual who has helped build this nonprofit here and especially to the Film COOP board and our new WIF friends. It was an amazing weekend and, yet, I suspect it was only just the beginning.