Scott Robbe reveals Film Wisconsin office plans

When Wisconsin’s impressive film incentive package is enacted in mid-April, the Badger State will have shot up from obscurity to the top of many an L.A. studio’s list of preferred regional locations.

What’s so remarkable is that a private industry group, Film Wisconsin, brought about a major, beneficial change in less than a year.

A key initiator of Film Wisconsin is filmmaker Scott Robbe, who returned for family reasons to his native Hartford, near Madison, after 20 successful years in New York. He first worked in “mainly social issue theatre Off Broadway,” and later enjoyed a top level career producing major television shows.

Robbe ultimately turned to film production after he realized “I could reach more people via film and TV than with Off Broadway plays.”

Self-taught in film, “I started as a location manager, then became a production manager, a UPM and moved into producing. I am also a sometime director and writer,” he says.

ReelChicago talked to Robbe about the pending establishment of the Film Wisconsin office, the first order of business following the passage of the incentives bill.

REELCHICAGO: What was the first thing you did when you learned the Wisconsin Film Office was closing?
SCOTT ROBBE: I called director Michael Graf of Spot Filmworks and we met over coffee and talked. We said, ?what are we going to do about this, we have no film office, no incentives.’

What came out of that first meeting was the decision to hold a series of informal get-togethers at a Chile’s restaurant on the edge of town and find out what others thought.

It shows you what real sophisticated grass roots organizing can accomplish.

RC: Who attended those meetings?
ROBBE: There were eight of us: Michael Graf, Wayne Clingman, Anne Katz, George Tzougros, Will Edwards, Kristi Freidel and Pat Algiers.

RC: And what did you discuss at these get-togethers?
ROBBE: We said, if we’re going to create an industry-driven film office, we have to find out from industry and arts professionals industry want from it.

We held four Town Hall meetings?two in Madison, one each in Milwaukee and Green Bay. Out of them came the objectives and goals of Film Wisconsin.

RC: What were those objectives?
ROBBE: To create a new industry-driven film office with heavier emphasis on marketing and on lobbying for a really strong incentives program.

That gave rise to a 35-member Task Force that lobbied for the incentives and for the creation of new film office.

RC: Are you modeling the office after any particular state film office or a composite of several different ones?
ROBBE: We’re writing up a charter based on other organizations, but we’re modeling it after New York, which has attractive incentives. We will provide location help and we’ll coordinate working with different municipalities for police traffic control during location shoots at no cost.

Although we envision no-cost permits, we will streamline permit tracking. With accurate records we will know exactly how much revenue these productions generate, and what we might need to replenish incentives and make them better.

By the way, Film Wisconsin is scouting locations for an $8 million feature we hope to lure to Wisconsin. Hollywood is waiting for the incentives to pass before making a commitment.

Structure and staff of the Film Office

RC: As a private office, how will it be funded?
ROBBE: It will be set up as a 501(c)6 corporation so a contributor can take a tax write-off. Although we have a number of different revenue streams, we have to wait until the bill is enacted before we can draw on them.

RC: What’s the structure of the office going to be?
ROBBE: Small to start out with; two people in Milwaukee and one in a Madison satellite office. We are in the process of formulating by-laws and forming a board that will make the staffing announcement shortly.

This proves what’s possible when like-minded folks come together to determine their future. It shows you what real sophisticated grass roots organizing can accomplish.

RC: Since you were the Film Wisconsin founder, will you be the executive director?
ROBBE: I’d like to be involved in some way so we can realize all the goals that came out of the meetings last year.

RC: You said the new office will place heavier emphasis on marketing. How so?
ROBBE: We want Wisconsin to have a much greater presence throughout the country at trade shows and events.

RC: What do you think future revenues might be?
ROBBE: I wouldn’t want to put a dollar figure on it, but I’d say revenues will be in the tens of millions of dollars, if not greater, in two years.

The trend to film in Wisconsin will be greater in future. Studios today are so bottom-line driven. We will see L.A.-based companies do more regional filming, directly due to incentives.

We have to be as competitive as possible in what we have to offer, not only as a state, but as a country. We don’t want them going to New Zealand or the Czech Republic, or to our competition up north.

We want to keep what is manufacturing in the 21st century in the United States.

Scott Robbe can be reached at 608/271-8755, or 608/338-6665.