Watch: Arkansas a natural choice for HBO's "True Detective"January 15, 2019
The third season of HBO’s popular “True Detective” series premiered Sunday, January 13, and has already garnered rave reviews. The decision to film in Northwest Arkansas proved to be a wise business decision based on several key factors, including talent, the perfect natural setting, and a collaborative culture at the state and local levels.
Arkansas is a natural home for film
When Nic Pizzolatto, creator of the HBO series “True Detective,” was scouting locations for the third season of his popular show, he knew Arkansas would be the perfect spot.
“This is one my favorite places,” said Pizzolatto, who completed his graduate studies in Arkansas. “I think it’s a really special part of the country. I'm really looking forward to showing it off to the rest of the country in this series.”
There are nearly 2,000 miles between Arkansas and Hollywood, but as Pizzolatto already knew and others in the industry are beginning to notice, Arkansas is a natural home for film for many reasons.
First and foremost is the scenery. It’s undeniable. From the rolling hills of the Ozarks to the Grand Prairie, a bustling urban capital to the Mississippi Delta, filmmakers can find just about any vista they need.
“No matter where you are in Arkansas, if you go 30 minutes outside of what we might call an urban center, you change locations and you can change locations to fit pretty much any script,” explained Arkansas Film Commissioner Christopher Crane. “Sans a beach and an ocean, we’ve got a little bit of everything. It's always going to make sense in a topographical standpoint. I love Arkansas, and I think she's a beautiful state.”
Arkansas has a talented, deepening crew base with potential workforce development incentives for studio and series productions. In addition to a host of industry-leading expatriates who welcome opportunities to return home to work, Arkansas is adjacent to the crew bases of Memphis, Louisiana, and Texas.
“The ‘True Detective’ Season 3 production hired more than 1,000 Arkansans over the course of eight to 12 months,” said Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mike Preston. “It brought local jobs for those you’d consider traditionally to be in the film industry – cast and crew – but many other opportunities wouldn’t have happened otherwise such as housing, caterers and other goods. Being set – and filmed – in the state provides a stage for Arkansas to play to people who aren’t familiar with the landscape and culture.
“What we provide to the film industry is what we offer to any other new business – professionalism, hard workers, hospitality and a good business proposition,” Preston said.
Arkansas’ film and digital content production industry is highly collaborative, prolific and innovative. From facilitating series and feature productions to creating and enhancing industry-driven crew training to hosting world-renowned film festivals, the state has a core group of stakeholders and supporters who are making a way for more.
At the top of the list is AETN, the state’s PBS affiliate, which has consistently produced quality documentary work locally and nationally through the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. In recognizing the state needs a pipeline of future professionals, initiatives such as East Lab introduce kids as young as kindergarten to film by allowing them to play and craft with cutting-edge technology.
It’s not just cast and crew but the people throughout Arkansas who are supportive of movies made in Arkansas.
Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali spent nearly eight months in the northwest corner of the state last year, filming the third season of “True Detective” for HBO. He has this to say:
“I remember getting out of my car after being dropped off from the airport, and I was walking to go get some food. This woman was walking her dog, a few houses down from mine, a good distance from me, and she yells out to me ... ‘Welcome to Fayetteville. We're glad you're here.’”
Everybody in Arkansas wants film to succeed here. And, at the top of the list, is Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Hutchinson is known the world over for having an “open door policy” when it comes to economic development, and the state’s film industry is included.
“He was willing to sit down immediately with the producers and with the HBO executives, and just talk to them in a very personal way about how much we wanted them here in the state and what that meant as far as what we could offer them,” Crane said. “I’m not talking about monetarily or incentives, I'm just talking about customer service. And I think that that went a long way.”
The bottom line
Arkansas was the first state in the union to offer a financial incentive to attract production – the nickel rebate. More than 30 years later, Arkansas remains a nimble and innovative partner in materially impacting productions’ bottom lines.
But doing business is more than incentives, dollars and cents. Arkansas has one of the lowest costs of doing business, which means filmmakers get some amazing deals on the goods and services that it takes to produce a film. Partnerships throughout the state leverage those benefits.
“We can get things done because people understand that we’re all in this together,” Crane said. “As a result, we have relationships with pretty much every county official in the state. We're literally one phone call away from getting anything done. People want film in their community. I think that’s, truthfully, what sets us above the rest of the crowd.”
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