Nebraska lawmakers eye film industry for youth retention, economic development

By: - November 9, 2023 11:31 pm

The Nebraska State Capitol is shown in December 2022. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A Nebraska seventh grader told a legislative committee Thursday that growing the state’s film industry could help young people such as him stay to pursue their passion.

Raven Wiley of Western, Nebraska, a village of about 250 people in Saline County, told the Revenue Committee he’s acted, co-produced and directed films in the state. A friend he has acted with through local productions recently procured an agent, Wiley said, which cost thousands of dollars and required the friend to fly to California for acting gigs.

Wiley, who said he’s 12 years old, said many youths feel they must go to California or New York to pursue a film career. However, he said, he hopes a legislative study about possibly expanding and providing tax incentives for the Nebraska film industry could bring new opportunities.

“It would also provide kids like me a real future in something they feel so passionately about without having to leave their home or family,” Wiley testified.

State Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue at a legislative hearing this summer. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

State Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue introduced Legislative Resolution 243 for the interim study, which came Thursday, coincidentally on the same day the longest actors’ strike against film and TV studios in Hollywood history ended. Nebraska’s interim study is designed to see how efforts could also increase the state’s tourism industry and bring in more revenue dollars.

Rachel Hause, who presented the resolution on Sanders’ behalf as her legislative aide, said possible solutions could increase the tax base, continue partnerships with colleges and universities in film education, showcase Nebraska’s environment in films and increase tourism.

Filmmaking next steps

Stacy Heatherly, film commissioner for the Eastern Nebraska Film Office in Fremont, said creating a budget for the Nebraska Film Office and its partners could also build the film industry.

The volunteer-based Fremont office is active in recruiting film production through two goals: finding opportunity for economic impact in the rural community and giving young people an opportunity for hands-on experience.

The logo for the Nebraska Film Office in the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. (Courtesy of Nebraska Film Office)

Heatherly said a 2012 law sponsored by State Sen. Colby Coash explicitly included businesses that produced films, commercials and TV programs for eligibility in the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act of 1991.

Fremont has used provisions of that act for filmmaking with possible next steps being tax incentives or regulating on-set child labor, Heatherly said.

The Nebraska Film Office is currently seeking applications for a host city for The 48 Hour Film Project, an international film contest that will have more than 100 local-level competitions. Applications are due Dec. 8.

Finding purpose, place and passion

Ishma Yusaf Valenti I, a teacher and public servant for over 19 years, said the legislative resolution could positively impact young people such as Wiley, who he’s worked with as part of film camps through The Digg Site Productions, a nonprofit in Fremont.

Valenti said he’s seen young people who are vibrant and exuberant about the industry and want to make positive, impactful films leave Nebraska to chase their dreams in places such as California, Georgia or Canada, which have robust film incentives.

It’s a blessing to see children identify their strengths and points of happiness, Valenti added, transforming from a loner, misfit or outlier to finding their place and passion.

“Really, that’s all you can ask for as a teacher is when you can find a student that’s able to be fulfilled by something that makes them truly happy,” Valenti said.

A camera sits in the basement of Andersen Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus Nov. 2. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Similar to Valenti, Randy J. Goodwin of Fallen Giant Films said that Nebraska is his home and that he wants to return to the state to nurture young creatives. 

Goodwin has at least 28 years of Hollywood credits, such as producing, writing or directing more than 60 network TV shows or feature films, including “Dynasty,” “NCIS,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “911” and “The Vampire Diaries.”

Valenti said film work also provided self-confidence and purpose to a young Nebraskan a couple of years ago when they were thinking about taking their life and had previously attempted suicide.

“We’re not just positively impacting the state,” Valenti said. “We’re also saving lives, keeping the talent for our young people in Nebraska and also being able to expand our opportunities to tell equitable stories from a diverse population to be able to tell what Nebraska is and what we’re about.”

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling recently graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a double major in journalism and political science. He has interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. He reported for the Nebraska News Service and The Daily Nebraskan before joining the Nebraska Examiner staff as an intern.

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