CINCINNATI — Throughout 2021, WCPO’s Tanya O’Rourke will introduce you to nine influential women breaking glass ceilings or asserting their influence to make the Tri-State a better place to live. Check out previous installments starring Sister Sally Duffy, a nun who hopes to end poverty in our area; Cincinnati City Manager Paula Boggs Muething, who survived breast cancer and became the city's second woman manager; and Karen Bankston, whose long career in local health care has focused on connecting vulnerable people with medical resources.
CINCINNATI — Kristen Schlotman is “the best ambassador that Cincinnati has,” according to colleague D. Lynn Meyers. She’s not an athlete or a politician; her nonprofit, Film Cincinnati, consists of two people.
But Schlotman’s influence brings Oscar-winning actors and directors to shoot their projects in and around the city, generating work for local actors and artisans while enriching the state of Ohio. The result: A nascent film and television economy that Schlotman was frequently told the area could never support.
Luckily, “Kristen doesn’t comprehend the word ‘no,’” Meyers said.
Schlotman is a Mount Lookout native whose job is to “sell” Cincinnati to film production companies — travel the country convincing directors such as Todd Haynes, whose Cincinnati-shot film “Carol” was nominated for six Oscars, that the city has the visuals, the local talent and the infrastructure to bring their vision to life. Film Cincinnati’s website lists many of the local professionals who might be called upon to help execute it after a director says yes: Casting directors such as Meyers, an animal wrangler, carpenters, gaffers, location scouts, production designers and set decorators.
Her job at the top is a non-traditional one, and its demands shift.
"I'm the fireman,” Schlotman joked. “I’m putting out fires, left and right. We're solving problems for people. I think that's one of the things I love most about it, because I never know what the problem is and I never know quite what the answer is, but I know I'm going to figure it out.”
Schlotman said she got excited about film production when she was cast as an extra in “The Pride of Jesse Hallam,” a made-for-TV movie starring Johnny Cash, in 1981.
“They were shooting at Walnut Hills High School,” she said. “And I did not know who Johnny Cash was at the time, and I did not know who any of the actors were, but I remember looking around all of the other people that were running around, fixing lights, talking to each other on walkie-talkies, and I thought, ‘This is so cool. I don’t know what they’re all doing, but I want to do that.’”
She launched her dream as an adult and found resistance — not from people who thought it was a bad idea, but from people who thought it was simply unrealistic.
“And they kept saying, 'You know, that's a good idea, and we wish you luck, but Cincinnati's never going to get on the map for that,'" she said. "And if I had listened to them, then we wouldn't be where we are now."
Some of the highest profile Film Cincinnati-associated projects include “Carol,” starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara; “Dark Waters,” starring Mark Ruffalo; and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell. Film Cincinnati was also involved in Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” which netted star Glenn Close a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 2021 Oscars.
Schlotman wants more.
“I want us to be a world-class destination for all things production,” she said. “I want there to be so much work here that, yeah, Netflix builds a soundstage and then builds an entire campus, and we're putting people to work right out of UC, right out of NKU, right out of Miami, straight into this industry.”
She believes it’s possible, too. The progress that Ohio’s film industry has made in the last decade — according to a recent study, the state’s tax incentives for filmmakers have generated about $1.1 billion since 2009 — is “architecture” supporting what comes next, Schlotman said.
“Even though films and sets are here in our backyard, I want it to be a global destination for filmmakers all around the world,” she said. “And I feel like we're just now getting a lot of the architecture in place to be able to become that destination.”
Meyers said local artists have every reason to feel optimistic, thanks to Schlotman’s work.
“I can make a living here as a working artist,” she said. “I can make a living here doing lights and props and sets and sound, I can make a living here working with promotions, I can make a living in a town that I want to raise my family.”