High Heels in Hollywood

On the set of the Lifetime movie “Already Married.”

By Janice Carter Levitch

Photos Courtesy of Merry Kay Poe

On the heels of the 75th Golden Globe Awards – and those are high heels, by the way – I felt it appropriate to highlight how the film industry has made its way to our own community. After all, the sound of those high heels in Hollywood are also heard here in Louisville and throughout Kentucky, which is where you are likely to meet Merry-Kay Poe, president of Unbridled Films, LLC.

Merry-Kay began her efforts to recruit film projects to Kentucky in 2008. Working as a casting director since the 90s, she traveled regularly with clients to Los Angeles and New York, where nearly all television shows and movies were made. Later in that decade, other countries began luring the lucrative industry by offering tax incentives to filmmakers, creating somewhat of an exodus from L.A. to Canada, Europe and as far away as New Zealand. The U.S. markets quickly followed suit, and states like North Carolina and Louisiana boosted their economies by drawing a piece of an industry that brings more than $130 billion a year into the U.S. economy.

In 2007, Merry-Kay began a campaign to urge the Kentucky legislature to pass a bill offering similar incentives. The statute passed in 2009, immediately drawing in films such as Disney’s “Secretariat” and “The Ides of March.”

Janice Carter Levitch with artist Jeaneen Barnhart.

Merry-Kay also helped to craft a bill that enhanced film incentives, making Kentucky one of the most competitive film markets in the country. When the bill passed in 2015, it set the stage for the steady increase in projects that we are seeing today.

I was recently invited by local artist Jeaneen Barnhart to visit the set for a Lifetime movie being filmed around the Louisville area called, “Already Married.” The producers and director of the movie spotted Jeaneen’s art on display at a local business and tracked her down. Once they got her permission, they began featuring her art in the filming. Being on set was exhilarating, and the crew – most of which were local folks – were all professionals.

In 2017, Kentucky approved more than $300 million film expenditures, and 21 films actually completed filming. A major motion picture can bring up to $100,000 a day into the local economy where the film is being shot. Job creation is a tremendous factor in growing the local film industry. When Merry-Kay was educating legislators about this unique business, she would encourage them to sit for 10 minutes after the movies they watched to read the credits rolling. Every credit represents up to 10 people who were directly employed on that project.

As locals are becoming accustomed to seeing filming around town, Merry-Kay is often asked how one can become a part of this growing business. She loves to get this question because building a strong local crew base is essential for the industry to flourish. It’s easier than you think to break into the business. You can transfer your career skills to accommodate the industry or register for the new online training certificate for Kentuckians that was developed by Dr. Jim Owens, dean of the School of Communication Arts at Asbury University. It is approved by the governor’s office and the Kentucky Film office. You may enroll by visiting www.kyfilmcertification.com. There are databases kept by the Kentucky Film office (www.filmoffice.ky.gov) and by the Louisville Film Society (www.louisvillefilmsociety.org). where trained and experienced crew or support may list their services or business for producers looking to staff a project.

So, if you have been dreaming of becoming part of the film industry, that dream can now be fulfilled. Whether you’re a makeup artist, an accountant or anything in between and beyond, you have an opportunity waiting in your own backyard, thanks to Merry-Kay and countless others who have worked diligently to spread the word about our vibrant city and state.

I am positive Merry-Kay’s high heels are still busy paving the way for more films to be welcomed to our community with open arms. And…that’s a wrap! For now. VT