Milwaukee film bigger than beer

A study of southeastern Wisconsin’s film industry shows it employs nearly five times as many people as the area’s beer manufacturers and distributors.

In 2014, this industry contributed more than $1.55 billion in annual sales and $530 million in labor income, and it grew by 10 percent between 2010 and 2015 — double the growth rate for the overall economy of the Milwaukee area.

This study from ICF International looked at Milwaukee, Kenosha, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington, and Waukesha counties. It used three sources of data: federal industry data, a survey of over 700 regional stakeholders, and in-person and telephone interviews.

While the study found nearly 15,000 jobs in film and media, that number doesn’t include those doing film-related activity part-time. About 25 percent of survey respondents said they engage in film-related activities outside of their main source of income, while 55 percent say they do so outside of formal work or school.

The results of the study were released last week at the launch of the Milwaukee Filmmaker Alliance, founded in 2016 by Milwaukee Film. Its mission: support media, television, and filmmaking, both artistic and commercial, “from Milwaukee to the world and from the world to Milwaukee.”

“The local film and media industry and economy are growing at incredible rates, but there remains limitless untapped potential,” said Milwaukee Filmmaker Alliance Director Suzanne Jurva. “The Milwaukee Filmmaker Alliance plans to support and meet the needs of the region’s film and media industry by providing opportunities for filmmakers to promote their work and skills, network with other professionals, and hone their skills through education programs.”

Some assets for the industry identified in the survey include a strong education system, low cost of living and doing business, plus the annual Milwaukee Film Festival. This year’s 15-day festival ran Sept. 28 to Oct. 12.

The study also revealed challenges for the area’s film workers: limited opportunities for funding and investing in films; the need for more professional connectivity and industry resources; and the need for greater external relationships and exposure.

Academy Award-winning screenwriter and Milwaukee native John Ridley was featured in a video at last week’s launch event about a new creative hub being developed in Milwaukee. This film industry incubator is being developed at the former Pabst Brewery under the direction of Ridley and Milwaukee Co. Executive Chris Abele.

“The first thing we had to do was identify a space, and now that we’ve acquired it, we’re going about creating a space that’s comfortable and inviting,” Ridley said. “A place where people can socialize with purpose and go about the hard work that’s at the core of creativity — as well as come together and celebrate art.”

See more on the planned creative hub:

–By Alex Moe