CINCINNATI — David Hinojosa did not hesitate when asked what brought his New York-based production company, Killer Films, to Ohio in 2014 to shoot “Carol.”
“What initially brought us there was the state tax incentive,” said Hinojosa, the company's head of production and development. “It was very attractive.”
And though the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Incentive, which offers rebates to companies who film in Ohio, opened the door for the 20-year-old independent film company to come to Greater Cincinnati, it was the city's film-friendly architecture, hospitality and growing pool of professional talent that keeps Killer Films coming back.
Worth Every Dime
“Carol," starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, is up for five awards at Sunday's Golden Globes ceremony. The movie is a period piece about lesbian lovers set in 1950s New York.
Back in 2013, Killer Films faced big production costs if it tried to film the movie in the Big Apple, Hinojosa said. Because the look of the era no longer exists there, the company would have spent millions masking building facades and removing and installing appropriate street signs. Hinojosa also cited the high costs of closing New York City streets for exterior scenes.
Ohio's incentive program offered savings through a refundable tax credit equaling 25 percent off in-state spending and non-resident wages, and 35 percent in Ohio resident wages.
"That was a big part of it," Hinojosa said in explaining the Queen City's allure for the company.
Cincinnati is also "sort of frozen in time," he added: The city’s art deco architecture, made popular in the 1950s, meant Killer Films could make Cincinnati look like mid-20th-century New York for far less money.
It also helped that Kristen Schlotman, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission, worked hard to tout the city's benefits when Hinojosa's production staff began scouting locations in 2013.
“Kristen was very crucial every step along the way,” Hinojosa said. “I was blown away that she was as involved as she was. She really sold us on the city.”
When production began on "Carol," Schlotman continued going above and beyond, Hinojosa said, making restaurant reservations, arranging activities for visiting families and spending time each day on set.
The positive reception by mega-stars like Blanchett made Killer Films' decision to shoot another New York period piece, “A Kind of Murder,” a few months after “Carol” wrapped filming that much easier.
Hinojosa said with "Carol" and "A Kind of Murder," Cincinnati started building a reputation where actors and film crews knew they could be “happy and comfortable” working here. Actors can dictate where production companies shoot during pre-production negotiations, he added.
Not Just a Pretty City
The capstone event for Killer Films’ relationship with the region came when James Franco decided to direct “Goat” here in 2015, Hinojosa said. The movie, unlike Killer Films' other productions, was a modern-day story centered on the experience of a freshman college student. It broke Cincinnati out of the “period piece” film mold.
“'Goat’ was the first one we set out to do from the beginning in Cincinnati,” Hinojosa said. “We knew we could get that fused-together look of the typical United States, mid-sized town.”
Killer Films also shot scenes outside of Cincinnati proper, including Northern Kentucky for the first time. Shoots took place at Xavier University, the University of Cincinnati and area high schools to create a fictitious college town. Killer leveraged the Ohio tax program by hiring a majority of its production crew from the region instead of bringing workers from out of state. That all happened as Franco announced he also would shoot a second film, “The Long Home,” here immediately following “Goat.”
Schlotman recently hinted that two or three big film productions could come to Cincinnati soon. Hinojosa said he communicates with the film commission on a weekly basis, discussing possible projects.
“There are three or four things in her inbox now,” he said. "We used to focus on Louisiana and Georgia for shoot locations. Ohio and Cincinnati has joined that list. It’s one of the first places we talk about.”
Location: New York City
Film credits: "Still Alice" (2014); "Kill Your Darlings" (2013); "I'm Not There" (2007); "Far from Heaven" (2002); Academy Award-winning "Boys Don't Cry" (1999); and "Kids" (1995).
What's next: Killer Films' projects in development include “Brooklyn Bridge,” a movie about how the Roebling Bridge’s more famous sibling was built, and director Todd Haynes' next film, "Wonderstruck."