050419-nws-Film Study

Filmmaker Dave Diebel stands outside the Belle Mehus City Auditorium in Bismarck on Friday. The historic auditorium is home to the Dakota Film Festival.

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota has seen a small swell of storytelling on screen in recent years, but none of it filmed here. 

The FX television series "Fargo" was shot in Calgary, Alberta. "Woman Walks Ahead," which portrayed an artist's relationship with Sitting Bill on the Standing Rock Reservation, was filmed in New Mexico. 

And ABC's "Blood & Oil" used mountainous Utah to portray western North Dakota's Bakken oilfield.

Now a legislative study may look at what motion picture incentives could be developed for North Dakota from looking at neighboring and Midwestern states' packages for filming and the related economic impact.

The study isn't mandatory. Lawmakers of Legislative Management, a powerful interim committee, will approve studies and committee structures at a meeting in late May. They have about 65 studies to review, some mandatory, some not.

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, brought the proposal to the state Department of Commerce budget after some Bismarck filmmakers reached out to him to see about reviving some unsuccessful legislation for film incentives from 2013.

"There might be some interest based on how it could impact tourism and local, little towns," Boschee said. 

Due to the lateness of the session, Boschee proposed the study, which was amended into the budget. 

"I thought it was interesting and something a little different," said Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, who worked on a subcommittee that had the budget.

Dave Diebel, producer for D&N Cinematics in Bismarck, said film incentives bring economic benefits to the local economy. He pointed to a commercial shoot for Hu activewear in 2016 in New Town with rapper Pharrell Williams that pumped $200,000 into the economy from a 60-person crew's lodging and catering. 

"That's the kind of return on your dollar, as far as incentivizing production to happen here, that I think is something we need to take advantage of more as a state," Diebel said. 

He also pointed to production professionals already "poised" in North Dakota, and a variety of programs at the state's universities, such as video production at Bismarck State College and the Bison Information Network at North Dakota State University.

And North Dakota has its wide, open spaces and beautiful scenery, too, he added. 

"There's a lot of opportunity if you just foster that industry a little bit and help it along," Diebel said.

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Sara Otte Coleman, director of the state Tourism Division, said North Dakota offers zero incentives for filming, but does lend "support" when interested parties reach out, usually about rural scenery. 

Tourism staff helped production crew members of "The Revenant" scout Missouri River locations, but didn't ultimately secure filming for the 2015 survival story of frontiersman Hugh Glass, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Tourism Division maintains a webpage for contact information for potential locations and information on the state's seasons, government structure, Indian reservations and even crop cycles.

"We'll help with location scouting. We advise on permit requirements. We really try to be accessible and available; however, there are no economic incentives," Coleman said. 

North Dakota has waded into filmmaking before; the state-owned Bank of North Dakota financed a $3.9 million loan in 1999 for "Wooly Boys," a story of a sheep rancher and his grandson filmed in the Medora area. Actors such as Peter Fonda, Kris Kristofferson and Keith Carradine starred. 

But that venture was a financial flop. 

It's a competitive industry, Coleman said. Montana and Minnesota have offered filming incentives, she added, but Georgia and Utah offer perhaps the best packages. 

"If you think of it as economic development more so than marketing, I think you're going to approach it in the right way," Coleman said. 

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.