Last August marked an amazing moment for Iowa. The hottest ticket on earth was to a Major League Baseball game at the “Field of Dreams” movie site. It was a magical night of cornfields and baseball that took our breath away and made grown men cry. It was a beautiful story that created a major economic boost and a priceless promotion for our state — people are still talking about it!
And just think: It all started with the arts.
The story was an idea hatched in Iowa City that became a book, then a script, then an iconic movie, a major league sports attraction and now a digital television series for a whole new generation. It’s a gift of the arts that keeps on giving. It’s also an example of how we are successfully building a sustainable ecosystem for filmmakers, so others will come.
Produce Iowa is the reimagined state film office, and one of our primary goals is to help incubate Iowa stories and create home-grown projects here in Iowa. We launched our office from scratch nine years ago and have strategically built a foundation of support in communities across the state. I’ve seen that growth firsthand, and it fills me with pride. It’s the 16 Iowa communities from Siouxland to Snake Alley who are producing film festivals and welcoming guests from all over the world to their main streets. It's the resident Iowa filmmakers who are spending money in small towns and creating jobs that support our film and television industry organically, as a whole.
Sustainability is essential. We want to invest in the filmmakers who stay in Iowa, and we want to help them develop the industry in their own ways. We do this by cultivating a filmmaking ecosystem that supports all kinds of productions, big and small.
These efforts start with opportunities. For example, we help Iowans find jobs by encouraging them to showcase their skills and services in our free statewide Media Production Directory, and we help property owners earn money with our Location Database. Our office facilitates requests every day from producers who want to visit Iowa, hire Iowans and spend money on productions right here in Iowa.
Film and media projects create high-paying trade jobs, boost small businesses and drive tourism while attracting and retaining residents. We elevate Iowa-made short stories through a statewide television series called, “The Film Lounge,” with our partners from Iowa PBS and the Iowa Arts Council. Produce Iowa offers a MediaMasters Series of hands-on workshops with industry leaders to provide opportunities for professional development, and we also work with 26 Iowa colleges and universities that offer film and media programs to build awareness about in-state job opportunities. That number often surprises people, but it’s why it’s so important to build an industry that retains creative students and offers them opportunities when they graduate.
It’s also what inspired us to launch the Greenlight Grants three years ago. This program was a major milestone for the office and our impact in the state. To date, we’ve invested just under a half million dollars in 12 Iowa filmmakers to propel their projects “from script to screen” and collaborate with other in-state filmmakers. The grants require a 50% cash match, which requires filmmakers to have some skin in the game and leverage even more funding. The state grants often provide a credible “stamp of approval” that encourages private investors to help filmmakers tackle projects they might not be able to do anywhere else. One grant recipient took our $30,000 grant for a pilot episode and turned it into just over $100,000 — all of which she spent on Iowans in our filmmaking ecosystem. The grant was the spark she needed to believe in herself and push to the next level.
When we encourage people to produce in Iowa, the ripple effects benefit small businesses and Iowans who aren’t even in the film and television industry. Film crews stay in hotels. They eat at cafes and restaurants. They buy lumber and gear at the hardware store. They rent cars. They hire caterers and construction workers and real estate agents. All of this happens when we manufacture entertainment here in Iowa to meet the world’s ever-growing demands for content.
But now back to that original Iowa story I mentioned earlier. The new adaptation of a 34-year-old Iowa movie will reach an even bigger audience, while once again fueling our filmmaking ecosystem. A new limited digital series of “Field of Dreams” will begin major production in July through August here in Greater Des Moines (DSM). The NBCUniversal production is written and executive produced by Michael Schur (“The Office”) and will stream on Peacock in 2023. We’re thrilled that Schur and his production team couldn’t think of the movie without thinking of Iowa — and vice versa.
And it's good to know that a native Iowa filmmaker will help shepherd this story. Another executive producer, Morgan Sackett, grew up in Okoboji and went on to help produce some major Hollywood hits such as “Seinfeld,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Veep” and “Hacks,” to name just a few. It goes to show that there is always an Iowa connection in business. Whether you are an Iowa filmmaker working here or an expatriate who wants to bring a project back to the state, it's important to continue to cultivate high-quality storytelling and welcome opportunities that feed our diverse and sustainable ecosystem.
So, get ready for another summer of baseball and magical cornfields in our state. Iowa is certainly heaven to filmmakers.
For more information, please visit produceiowa.com.
Greater Des Moines (DSM) has one of the best business climates in the country. The region is nationally recognized for having a talented and educated workforce, a cost of doing business 13% below the national average, a low cost of living and an exceptional quality of life. In 2022, Site Selection Magazine named it a top metro for number of economic development projects. Find out more about how your business can succeed in DSM with the help of the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Economic Development Prospectus.
Liz Gilman is Executive Producer of Produce Iowa and the state's film commissioner. Since launching the office in 2013, Liz has focused on attracting the film and television industry to Iowa, while building sustainability with its residents. Liz lives in Des Moines where she is active in the cultural community.