Column: Dear Hollywood: Next time, choose to film in Kansas

dear hollywood,

Please start making things in Kansas now.

Last week, 1,000 showrunners, oddly divided by gender, sent letters to top Hollywood executives demanding that states with draconian abortion laws introduce specific protections for film and television production workers. States, including but not limited to Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, which for years have vigorously courted Hollywood production with sizeable tax incentives.

Kansas does not currently offer such subsidies. What there is, however, is a state constitutional amendment to protect women’s reproductive rights, and a populace that voted overwhelmingly to keep that amendment, just after the dangerous overthrow of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court.

Various studios have promised to cover the costs of employees who have to travel to achieve a safe and legal abortion, and that’s great (although it raises serious privacy and logistical concerns). But if the studios are really serious about protecting female cast and crew (or just supporting laws that treat women like people) and also need a location to film that looks like Central America, why not choose Central America.

Despite The Wizard of Oz, Hollywood has ignored Kansas in a way that borders on insult. No director has attempted to do for the state what, say, Alexander Payne (and Bruce Springsteen) did for Nebraska or what the Coen brothers did for Minnesota.

(To be fair, although they can push “pull” into “pool” or “pen” into “pin,” Kansans don’t have the sort of instant geolocation accent that Minnesotans have.)

Even in the “give me more CONTENT” reign of streaming, there haven’t been many movies or TV series set in the Sunflower State. Amy Poehler just announced that she will be shooting her new unscripted show, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, in Kansas City, where Queer Eye filmed seasons 3 and 4. (To be clear, KC straddles Kansas and Missouri, and Missouri has recently outlawed abortion, even in cases involving rape and incest.) But the last major feature film set in Kansas may have been Man of Steel. And it was filmed in Canada.

Which is almost always the case with Kansas; Even stories specifically set in the state are filmed elsewhere.

I’m looking at you, “Somebody Somewhere,” an HBO comedy set in Kansas but filmed in Illinois, and you, “The Good Lord Bird,” a Showtime limited series centered on the Kansas border war , but was filmed in Virginia.

It’s probably not fair to single them out (love you, “Somebody Somewhere”!) since the Kansans have been snubbed by the industry for years.

Ironically, “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” is perhaps the most famous phrase to feature the state’s name, but “The Wizard of Oz” was shot entirely on a Culver City soundstage. Although the 1967 film adaptation of that other Kansas-centric masterpiece, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, used Kansas for Kansas, the 1996 miniseries was shot in Canada — as was Bennett Miller’s 2005 Capote.

As for “Smallville,” The CW’s signature series about a teenage Superman living in Kansas? Shot in British Columbia, Canada.

Judy Garland as Dorothy in an artificial cornfield in "The Wizard of Oz"

Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, no longer in Kansas (because it was filming in Culver City).

(Turner Classic Movies)

The 2009 adaptation of Thomas Frank’s 2004 bestseller What’s Wrong with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America was filmed in Kansas. But then it was a documentary. About Kansas. (And given recent events, maybe we could use a sequel.)

Many factors come into play when deciding where to shoot this or that film or series. Money is one of the big ones (hence the tax incentives), but so is infrastructure – sound stages, trained local workforce, cast and crew housing – and the diversity of the scenery.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently reminded the entertainment industry that there’s no place like home, but aside from the tax incentives, Kansas also has all of those things and a lower cost of living.

In addition, his constitution grants women full autonomy over their own bodies. No annoying and invasive expense reports! Imagine the savings.

When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Fetal Heartbeat Act into law a few years ago, I wrote a column proposing — well, ok, Challenging – that Hollywood is coming out of Georgia. Instantly. In response, many Georgian women, both inside and outside the film industry, told me that I was only making things worse, that, above all, a boycott would harm the very women I was hoping to protect. I know better than to argue with Georgia women and I know Hollywood too; In the end, letters of protest from angry creatives may make headlines, but money is always the loudest voice in any room.

So I’m not saying, “Boycott states with laws that relegate women to state-controlled incubators,” because what is the point? These states are literally paying Hollywood to stay there. And while that seems morally bankrupt on one level and in general, you know, rough, The thriving of local film and television industries in places like Atlanta, Austin, Texas and New Orleans was a beautiful thing. (And proof that the best way to get a educated workforce locally is to stay long enough to train people.)

And who knows? Perhaps these local communities are helping their states do what Kansas just did: A woman’s right to control, preserve, or restore her own body.

So I’m not saying anything about Georgia, Texas or Louisiana. I’m just saying, why don’t you take a look at Kansas? Everything is a lot cheaper than in LA and that should help the bottom line.

More importantly, if you want to bring dollars to local businesses and raise the profile of certain areas, why not do it in a state that doesn’t require you to apply for special protections for women of childbearing age?

Why not in a state that just told the Supreme Court, “Do what you will; Abortion is legal in Kansas.” A state that may have paved the way for all those states with trigger laws and institutionalized misogyny (perhaps starting with Missouri).

Instead of taking women in and out of states that don’t consider them equal citizens, you could tell stories about Kansas in Kansas.

What you sacrifice in tax subsidies, you earn back in reproductive rights.

And if that’s not motivation enough, well, the barbecue is pretty awesome.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-08-04/column-dear-hollywood-next-time-choose-to-film-in-kansas Column: Dear Hollywood: Next time, choose to film in Kansas

Sarah Ridley

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