Supporting NWA's Growing Film and Production Industries

John Malkovich is filmed in Springdale High School's performing arts center for a scene in the 2022 film "Mindcage." (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.)

By Mary Jordan
Springdale Public Schools

Springdale Schools is contributing to Northwest Arkansas’ burgeoning creative economy by growing regional professionals and directly supporting the film and production industry.

“The creative economy is a place that content and storytelling intersect with market value—a place where commerce and content intersect,” said Trent JonesSpringdale Public Schools communications director.

It can often be difficult to understand the economic value of the film and production industry as part of that creative economy, said Dan RobinsonFayetteville Film Fest technical director.

“Recognizing the economic impact that creativity and creatives have is something that has been underserved, and it's very exciting to advocate for that,” Robinson said.

The American film and television industry support 2.4 million jobs, pay $186 billion in total wages and comprise more than 122,000 businesses nationally, according to the “The American Motion Picture and Television Industry: Creating Jobs, Trading Around the World,” a report published by the Motion Picture Association of America in January 2023.

Filmmaking and production are also part of growing creative industries in Northwest Arkansas, according to Arkansas Cinema Society, which used the filming of HBO’s “True Detective Season 3” in 2018 as an example.

Portions of the production were filmed in Springdale and created more than 1,000 jobs and had a $100 million economic impact on Northwest Arkansas, according to the society.

The school district recognizes the value of such economic opportunity, Jones said.

“Springdale Schools is a valued part of locally filmed productions,” he said. “Not only are we serving our students by empowering them to grow to become industry professionals, but we’re also making our buildings and staff accessible for productions to create in our spaces.”

Location matters

Filmmakers have highlighted the beauty of the Natural State in classic films like Gone with the Wind in 1939, hit television shows like “Designing Women” from 1986-1993 and blockbusters such as “Mud,” a 2013 film starring actor Matthew McConaughey, according to the 2019 Arkansas Film Industry report by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Arkansas lends itself to remarkable filming locations, said Arkansas Film Commissioner Christopher Crane in the report.

“No matter where you are in Arkansas, if you go 30 minutes outside of what we might call an urban center, you change locations and you can change locations to fit pretty much any script,” Crane said. “Sans a beach and an ocean, we’ve got a little bit of everything. It’s always going to make sense in a topographical standpoint. I love Arkansas, and I think she’s a beautiful state.”

Aaron RhamesRockhill Studios producer, said a production’s filming location is the “backdoor to producing.”

“You have directors and producers in your car who are going over the script and going over certain changes they want to make and how much money they're going to spend and what they want to have the art department spend their money on,” he said. “Your location pretty much flushes out the entire character.”

Rockhill Studios, a Fayetteville-based project development and production studio, chose Springdale Schools for locations Rockhill scouted for the  filming of both “True Detective Season 3” in 2018 and “Mindcage” in 2021, Rhames said.

“What I like about Springdale Schools for locations is that you have about three or four different types of architecture in the area that can be that could be put over another scene,” Rhames said, adding Springdale High School is particularly versatile as a production location. “You have what looks like a place of business, you have what looks like a government office, you have what looks like a high school or cafeteria.”

Springdale’s staff also makes it easy to work with the school district, Rhames said.

“Staff is very film accommodating,” he said. “Jason Jones and Trent Jones have been a blessing. Without a doubt, they are the kindest people to work with, and they love film.” Jason Jones is the Springdale High School principal.

In addition to renting school locations for filming, Springdale students are also provided with opportunities to work alongside industry professionals by serving as members of local production crews.

“What you are seeing there is a real-life example of workforce development meeting the creative economy and infusing community and business partners into that,” Jones said. “That creates relevant, engaging opportunities for our students.”

Keeping Talent Local

Building a qualified workforce to meet the needs of the region’s growing film and production industries is essential, said Cassie Haley, Fayetteville Film Fest executive director.

“We're finding now that there's more production action happening than there is crew to support it,” Haley said.

When people learn a skill and can only find jobs out of state, the economy experiences a brain drain of really amazing talent, she said, adding filmmakers previously had no choice but to bring crews to Arkansas from out of state to meet local production needs.

“Over the last 10 years, we've seen a lot more of our local crew base come together,” Haley said. “We've also seen a lot of our artists grow up and be able to stay here and get jobs instead of moving away.”

Students are graduating and are able to support themselves working in the creative industries they choose, she said.

District video production programs are aligned with both filmmaking or broadcast journalism career pathways, Jones said.

Abner Sosa, 24, is a 2018 graduate of Springdale High School, who now works out of Rogers as a producer and reporter for 40/29 News.

“This week, I was on TV for the first time as a reporter, and it’s a new path I look forward to pursuing,” he said Dec. 8. “Before this job, I worked at a community radio station in Fayetteville as a show host and producer.”

Sosa said he received his first media production experience through Springdale High School’s Bulldog TV program.

“Without the classes I took at Springdale, I wouldn’t have the quick knowledge for this job that I do now,” Sosa said. “I feel like I have a head start on a lot of projects here at 40/29, and that’s because I learned it all in high school.”

Sosa and Rhames of Rockhill Studios both participated in a Nov. 28 professional film and video panel for Springdale and Har-Ber high school and LakesideGeorge and Central junior high school students. They shared information and answered production career questions for students alongside other industry professionals.

Sosa said his production and media career has been precisely what he anticipated.

“I don’t ever feel like I’m going to work,” he said. “I’m enjoying every day of it, and I’m learning so much too.”

Sosa said he’s pursuing a broadcast journalism degree through the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

“The best part is that I only feel like I’m just getting started,” Sosa said of his future in broadcast media. “I feel like there’s so much more for me to experience and so many more places for me to go”

Story One: Springdale Schools Supports NWA's Creative Growth

Story Two: Springdale Sets Workforce Education Stnadards

Story Three: Student Film festival Grows Experience and Workforce

Story Four: Springdale Students Creatively Earn and Learn