The Montana landscape, from mountains to prairie and quiet untouched forests to badlands, beckons filmmakers anxious to capture its vastness, storylines and romance.
High-profile Hollywood filmmakers are welcome, but it was Montana resident directors, producers and commercial industry specialists converging on Butte Tuesday.
In a first for the state film industry, the two entities met for a conference designed to bond filmmakers and technology. The pairings, common in other states, debuted at the Mother Lode Theater.
“What’s different about this one is it’s bringing the industry of storytelling to technical people,” said Deny Staggs, Montana Film Office commissioner, conference host and funder for many independent Montana projects. “It’s a key component. They are a viable industry that needs to be recognized as a business sector in Montana.”
About 80 filmmakers, technology insiders and creative types interacted with filmmakers-turned-panelists in the Montana Forum on Film + New Media, a networking extravaganza.
The Montana Film Office, under the Montana Department of Commerce umbrella, splits a $1 million Big Sky Film grant, divvied up among projects shooting Montana-centric films “in underutilized areas,” said Staggs.
About one-quarter of the earmarked dollars pays for promotions and the rest funds larger projects in the state, like Chisel Industries’ recent short film, “The Orphan Girl” and “Winter in the Blood,” an independent feature made by co-directors Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith of Missoula.
Staggs once ran a production company in Missoula. It allowed him to be flexible, yet he felt isolated from like-minded colleagues.
“I was just a guy alone,” Staggs said. “I didn’t even know what the Montana Film Office was. I wanted to stay small.”
Now as a leader, he meets more Montana-based filmmakers, so Staggs and his office have expanded their mission: “I want to begin an ongoing dialogue so we can help you grow,” he told the audience. “There are a lot of resources out there.”
The Montana Film Office database is one resource open to all filmmakers.
One challenge is finding qualified applicants willing to pay their dues, said J.P. Gabriel of Filmlites Montana.
Gabriel said hiring crew members disciplined enough to learn the craft and understand the hierarchy of the film world is “kind of a deficit now.”
Yet Staggs predicts that if Montana filmmakers use state locations, filmmaking will become more regionalized and grow.