When Marina Coria visited Iowa for the first time last year, she had never been through blustery Midwest winter.
“I was born and raised in Los Angeles so I’d never experienced snow and cold,” she said. “That was a little daunting, but I have to say: The people in Iowa are the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
Coria came to Iowa last fall to work on hair and make-up for “Embeds,” a digital series produced by Los Angeles-based Haven Entertainment and shot in Iowa. Her brush with “Iowa nice” surprised her more than Liz Gilman, the executive producer of Produce Iowa, the state office that supports media production.
“Thankfully, I hear that all the time,” Gilman said. “Crews come to Iowa and talk about how genuinely nice we are and how we’re quick to lend a helping hand. They usually follow that up with comments about the variety of convenient locations, the beautiful landscape and the general ease of doing business.”
She said some out-of- state producers like Iowa so much, they stick around. One project often leads to another.
‘Embeds’ leads to ‘Play by Play’
Coria’s journey to Iowa began when Hollywood producer Kevin Mann started scouting locations for “Embeds,” a show about five young national news reporters embedded on the presidential campaign trail.
Mann called Produce Iowa. “At first they just wanted to shoot a pilot, and next thing we knew they were shooting all six episodes here and writing Iowa into the script as a major character,” Gilman recalled.
While shooting in Des Moines, the production team discovered Roosevelt High School and decided it was the perfect principal location for their next digital series, “Play by Play,” a coming-of-age story about an ESPN-type sportscaster who looks back on his life in the 1990s and gives the play-by- play of his adolescence.
Dominic Ottersbach, co-executive producer of both shows, said his team had originally planned to shoot “Play by Play” in Salt Lake City but saw several advantages to shooting exclusively in Des Moines, including lower costs, genuine hospitality and the availability of production equipment. Besides, the Los Angeles crew members appreciate the breezy, traffic-free, 10-
minute commute from downtown.
“We’ve never had a problem or issue that we couldn’t solve locally,” he said. “I would definitely have anybody come here, and they will have a great experience.”
Ottersbach and crew returned to Des Moines this past August and are currently shooting the second and third seasons of “Play by Play” until mid-November. Both “Embeds” and “Play by Play” are available to stream on go90.com.
‘Bachelor’ leads to ‘Mushtown’
When ABC’s reality TV show “The Bachelor” came to Iowa two years ago to shoot a few episodes, the trip inadvertently set the stage for a short movie called “Mushtown,” which was filmed this summer near Stratford. It tells the story of two boys who learn a tough lesson from an animal’s death on a farm.
The movie’s path to Stratford can be traced to Des Moines-based filmmaker Kristian Day, who continued working on other seasons of “The Bachelor” in Los Angeles. A colleague sent him the “Mushtown” script and signed him on as a co-producer. Soon enough, their $10,000 budget grew to $30,000.
Production sped up last May when Day was working on a different project in Webster City and discovered Jerold and Arlene Chally’s farm near Stratford. Their rustic barns, sheds and silo were perfect for the “Mushtown” story. Filming began in July with more than 20 people on the set, including four actors from Chicago and a few crew members from Los Angeles.
“Most of our crew was from here in Iowa,” Day said. “Our camera team came from Des Moines, and we had some other people come in from Cedar Falls. And we got a lot of support from the people of Stratford and Webster City.”
Day said the experience of filming “Mushtown” reinforces his belief that Iowa offers filmmakers a number of unique, hard-to-find qualities.
“We’re a right-to-work state and we have a strong work ethic,” he said. “We have four seasons that give us a lot of variety and our site locations have characteristics that give us great production values. You really can’t buy that anywhere else.”
“Mushtown” is expected to be finished by the end of December.
— Jeff Morgan, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs