Indiana Film Race to put local spotlight on filmmaking

Friday, August 31, 2018

Putnam County has gained modest traction recently as a background for independent filmmaking in Indiana.

The award-winning 2014 film “Reparation,” a collaboration between 1994 DePauw University graduate Ken Ham and theater professor Steve Timm which examines a man’s struggles to remember his past, was filmed entirely in Greencastle and surrounding areas. The comedy-drama film “King Rat,” directed by 2014 graduate Henry Johnston, was all filmed on DePauw’s campus and presented at the Indy Film Fest in July 2017 to positive reviews.

Before “King Rat” was screened, Johnston told the Indianapolis Monthly that, “I think there’s a lot of draw to filming in Indiana right now.”

Joe Buser

As part of an inspired effort to showcase this potential, three teams will shoot scenes at landmarks across five counties in late-September. And they will do it in five days as they travel and work together.

This crash-course odyssey is the impetus behind the Indiana Film Race, a competition that will test the filmmakers’ creativity, as well as their ability to improvise and manage their surroundings.

The teams will film in Putnam, Montgomery, Tippecanoe, Monroe and Brown counties, with the McKim Observatory, the Lew Wallace Study in Crawfordsville, the Story Inn in Nashville and the Kumbum Chamtse Ling Monastery in Bloomington to name a few of the locations they will be visiting.

The man behind the project is Joe Buser, who has served locally as the executive director of the United Way of Putnam County. Buser also has a passion for film, and has been hard at work to find a creative way to promote Indiana as a filming destination.

The concept for the Indiana Film Race began to take shape while Buser was involved in the production of “Reparation” and “King Rat.” As production progressed for those films, he was struck by the support from the community at large.

“What impressed me so much, and what impressed the filmmakers and crew that came into town, was that so many people in Putnam County were so helpful in making their films,” Buser said. He recounted how community members volunteered to be extras, brought food to the production and invited the cast and crew into their homes.

Buser recognized the local economic potential that film could bring, and was inspired to do more.

“The idea came that we need to do more to promote filmmaking in Indiana,” Buser said, adding that it is already difficult to attract filmmakers to the state, especially those with big-budget productions.

Buser related that state legislation has not supported incentives to offset costs for a major film production, turning them away from shooting in Indiana. As such, he said that is important for independent films to take the initiative, and to be able to tap into local resources.

The Indiana Film Race will build upon efforts by the Indiana Filmmakers Network to connect Hoosier filmmakers, as well as work done by Film Indiana, which encourages filmmaking throughout the state through the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.

The idea of the Indiana Film Race has been grounded at the local level from the beginning.

Buser is also the founder of Roachdale-based FILM 765, LLC, a production company that is independently focused on the same purpose. Buser is also its executive producer, and collaborates with filmmakers between Roachdale and an office in Chicago.

Chicago is not new territory for Buser. When he lived there in the late-1980s and 1990s, he worked as a representative finding opportunities for filmmakers. Buser would beat the streets with a duffel bag full of Sony Betamax tapes, arranging meetings with advertising companies to present demos of his clients’ work.

This fell in line with Buser’s acting background that goes back to his undergraduate days as a theater major at Indiana University. Drawing on that experience, he also serves as the director of the Putnam County Film Commission, connecting filmmakers with potential locations and businesses.

The Indiana Film Race is FILM 765’s first full-scale project demonstrating the possibilities of filming in areas like Putnam County, especially for small independent filmmakers coming from places in the Midwest like Louisville and Cincinnati.

“Our initial hope is that we would draw some more of those people to Indiana by showing how easy it is to shoot here, and how the communities can really get behind them and help push their vision,” Buser said.

This draw is a facet of a growing phenomenon called “film tourism,” where tourists visit places that have been featured in films. Buser provided the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, made famous by the film “Hoosiers,” as an example where the film’s acclaim and its use as a location has brought development to the town.

Buser recognized the impact that the Indiana Film Race and film tourism could have on places like Greencastle.

He contacted the visitors’ bureaus in each county, which then recommended local landmarks that they would want to highlight as part of their local tourism. These locations were then incorporated into the competition as settings that the teams must use in their films.

However, this component of the competition is not solely driven by economic opportunity. The locations themselves will present unique challenges to the three teams.

“They’re not all ideal situations for a filmmaker,” Buser said, “but that’s what makes it a competition; to see how quick and creative they can be with telling their story around these different locations.”

The teams will also have to utilize the talents of six actors from each of the five counties in their films. This will require them to get a feel for their style and what kind of character they can present, adding another challenge to the competition.

The actors from Putnam County will include Ric McFadden, Dale Dye Thomas, Lisa McCoy, Caroline Good, Andrew Ranck and Donovan Asbell, all of whom Buser has collaborated with and have showcased their talents in local productions.

The teams will have the next three weeks to complete their scripts, rehearse and determine how they will approach shooting at the different locations. The competition will get under way at an opening ceremony at the MatchBOX Coworking Studio in Lafayette on Sept. 26.

While the point of the Indiana Film Race is to put the teams on a tight schedule, Buser believes the work they will do under this pressure will produce three quality films.

“I have a feeling that we will see three extraordinary stories that will absolutely blow your mind,” he said. “They’re going to be panicking here, but I think you’ll see that the best work is done under duress.”

Buser emphasizes the competition as being like “The Amazing Race,” but which will show the challenge of adapting to different scenarios and environments and creating a story around them.

A behind-the-scenes crew will follow the teams to the different locations and document their work, as well as the time they spend together. The content produced by the BTS crew will not show what Buser calls “imaginary drama,” but will instead tell a story about the relationships between the teams and their experiences.

“We want this to be a very positive experience,” Buser said. “It’s still a competition, but we want collaboration, because that is what filmmaking is about.”

The story of the Indiana Film Race will have a communal aspect to it. The teams will travel together in RVs, stay at the same campsite and eat their meals together. Buser hopes that this will encourage them to work together, as well as push each other.

The Indiana Film Race has a natural potential to boost industry in areas like Putnam County, while adhering to the original vision to promote film in Indiana. It is the concept itself that Buser hopes will take the competition further than what he initially imagined.

“It’s just so unique,” he said. “It’s just never been done before.”

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