Guest Opinion: Working to make filmmaking a reality for the First State


Akima A. Brown is the founding executive director of Reel Families for Change, which runs the Delaware Collective for Creative Economy initiative. Her work and expertise have landed her engagements with renowned organizations including SXSW, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Women in Film and Television, and The Micheaux Film Festival. She is a Dover resident.

Did you know that Delaware is poised to experience its greatest economic pivot since the Financial Banking Services Act of 1981?

Last summer, our General Assembly approved the Entertainment Industry Fund, a first-of-its-kind one-time production tax incentive program for Delaware.

Ever since “Dead Poets Society” filmed in Delaware in 1989, there have been multiple false starts trying to infuse funds from the multitrillion-dollar film industry into the First State.

Our efforts to enter the production sector before the early 2000s, when state incentives were becoming a cornerstone in economic revitalization, painted us as innovative and progressive.

Now, however, as the only state in our region still without any long-term film incentives, we’re considered archaic.

According to a study from the Association of Film Commissioners International, any location seeking to successfully launch a sustainable film and television production sector would do well to integrate four key things: workforce capacity, physical infrastructure, a film-friendly production environment and custom-tailored solutions unique to the location.

Delaware has all these assets, and more, but we must be careful not to underutilize or disregard them. For instance:

  • Workforce capacity: Every collegiate institution in Delaware offers media production, journalism and/or video-editing coursework, but we lose graduates to out-of-state jobs. Strengthening relationships with corporations registered and headquartered here would allow us to retain graduates and give them parallel video business opportunities in the commercial sector, while the narrative sector grows.
  • Physical infrastructure: Delaware has an impressive 150,000-square-foot soundstage in Wilmington called The Pine Box. But until the state markets its incentive, however, it will be nearly impossible to attract viable production patrons to the space.
  • Film-friendly production environment: Production-friendly environments are not only about incentives and regulations but the informal things that simplify the filmmaking process, like knowing who to call to bring a blockbuster show like “Lioness” to Sussex or co-producing with New Castle County and earning a Regional Emmy. While Kent County hasn’t embarked on any such endeavors yet, the efforts of The Commercial Moving Experience to lease land in Dover’s Garrison Oak Business and Technology Park could make it more attractive for studios to build future soundstages. All that’s missing is a centralized communication hub that allows filmmakers to take advantage of all this information.
  • Custom-tailored solutions: Successful customizations rely heavily on engaging a brain trust of local filmmakers and creative placemakers who understand what’s needed on the ground and have a way to collect and distribute information from a central hub. More often than not, this responsibility falls to an independent professional association or nonprofit that serves to support a state’s film office or commission.

This final component may actually be our strongest yet, thanks to the individuals who make up the Delaware Collective for Creative Economy (“the collective”).

The collective is a local initiative of the nationally serving, film-focused nonprofit Reel Families for Change. Based in Dover, we are helmed by renowned industry experts and practitioners, who live right here in the First State.

We are working to center the voices of Delaware filmmakers and award-winning professionals — like Aubrey Plaza, John Rusk and Luke Matheny — and include them in conversations about regulations, marketing, training and other production issues.

We’ve collaborated with stakeholders like the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, the Delaware Community Foundation, the Delaware Division of the Arts, YWCA Delaware and various elected officials, collecting and analyzing information about the local sector in an effort to design supportive solutions that can best serve Delaware.

Thanks to our work, we’ve recognized the need for an intersectional support model that leverages new policies and existing training pathways to attract projects, create jobs and revitalize the local economy. States that adopted similar models have seen near immediate boosts in business development, local tourism and the relocation of young professionals.

This week, we will be participating in Do More 24 Delaware, the state’s biggest day of giving, to raise critical funds and awareness to help Delaware maximize its potential as a mediamaking standard-bearer. I urge you to consider making a tax-deductible gift on March 2-3 to Reel Families for Change or one of the other 500-plus nonprofits seeking to make a difference in Delaware.

Together, we can make #FirstStateFilmmaking a reality.

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