MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Within the past few years, the Eastern Panhandle has become accustomed to playing host to production companies lining the streets with large vans and film crews shooting at different locations.
Because of production companies’ increased interest in the region, the staff for the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau were asked by the West Virginia Film Office to represent the state at a film industry convention in California from Nov. 4-11.
Executive director Laura Gassler and assistant director Mark Jordan will accompany members of the state’s film office to the American Film Market in Santa Monica, California, to assist promoting the state to an annual international audience of more than 8,000.
“Because of all the filming going on in the Eastern Panhandle and how active (the CVB) has been in helping them, the WV Film Office asked if we’d like to help man the booth with them. It’s open all day long, and then after hours it’s all the networking,” Gassler said.
“We’re going to be representing all of West Virginia, but we also get to pitch the Eastern Panhandle. Our area is definitely going to get a plug,” she said.
In addition to operating a booth, Gassler and Jordan will attend site visits with the WV Film Office representatives to different production companies, including Paramount Pictures and Disney.
While television and movie filming has sporadically occurred in the Eastern Panhandle over the years, the region has had at least one project filmed every year since 2012. This year, two projects have filmed in the area, whose working titles are “The West” and “American Speed: the True Story of NASCAR.”
The production company for both television series is Stephen David Entertainment, which also produced other projects filmed in this area, including “The Men Who Built America,” “The World Wars,” “American Genius” and “Making of the Mob: New York.”
Gassler said the region has seen economic improvement through the continuous stream of filming projects.
“Our hotel/motel tax, for whatever the reasons, was up 10 percent last year over the prior year. It’s up 13 percent this fiscal year, to date, with our fiscal year beginning July 1. The Holiday Inn said their coin-operated laundry machines in 2014 went up $1,000 while there was filming. If it did that, imagine what it did for places like the lumber yard and the restaurants and in general,” she said.
At the American Film Market, Gassler will be displaying different film locations of just the Eastern Panhandle on a laptop at the booth, while locations throughout West Virginia play on a loop on a television at the booth.
Additionally, she and Jordan created a brochure about the filming opportunities and benefits available in Berkeley County for the event.
Since the rise in filming activity in the area, the CVB has increased its effort to develop filming as tourism, Gassler said. She and Jordan are both AFCI film liaisons recognized by the WV Film Office, which allows them to be an extension of the state office when speaking with film companies.
Additionally, more emphasis have been made toward residents who want to be in the film industry, not just as actors but in supportive and administrative work.
“Our next challenge here will be not only to bring in the productions but to grow our local base of employees. Production companies may import their camera crews from New York or California but they need local people as the production assistants, electricians and carpenters. The state has started to get a list of local people, and they’ve offered classes here,” she said.
Staff writer Samantha Cronk can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/scronkJN.