Movies and PA’s Americana Region
by Santo Marabella, ReadingFilm Commissioner
I have always loved film as an awesome way to tell stories. From the silly to serious, or the sensational to the sublime, film is an exciting medium to inspire, inform, engage, provoke and entertain. Great film, in my opinion, begins with a great script – the story – that needs equally amazing talent, both in front and behind the camera, to bring it to life. And close behind are the locations where the film is shot.
Perhaps it is this love of film that compelled me to try my hand at writing, directing, and acting. The more involved I became in these activities, the more I began to see my home, Reading, Pennsylvania as the perfect location for various film projects.
You might be wondering… Reading PA, really? Yes, really! Rewind back to 1970, when Reading, found itself in Hollywood’s spotlight as the shooting location for native son, John Updike’s film, “Rabbit Run.” Years and years have passed, but people still fondly recall that experience. It made us feel special, and proud, and excited.
Fast-forward to 2006. The idea to establish a film office in our region came from a conversation I had with Reading actor, Michael Constantine (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Room 222). We were trying to figure out how to find the resources to shoot one of Michael’s films in Reading. It wasn’t as if the community wasn’t cooperative, it’s just that no one knew how to proceed. It occurred to me to bring together a group of like-minded people. I knew collectively, we could accomplish more than a few individuals floundering to get things done. A meeting was held and, the Film Commission was born.
That was over 10 years ago, and today, ReadingFilm, as it is now called, continues to showcase Pennsylvania’s Americana Region as a “destination location,” and to provide concierge service to producers and filmmakers. In 2010, with support from local legislatures, area businesses, and the City of Reading, we produced “Location, Location,” a location reel sent to location scouts throughout the country to interest them in filming projects in Reading. While it has been difficult to track exactly what projects came directly from the nineteen-minute video, it put Reading-Berks County, PA, on the map as a viable film location. The reel is still used to today.
I estimate that each year since our founding, one feature film, plus 3-4 short films, music videos, or episodic TV projects have been shot here, bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lodging, location fees, ancillary services like equipment and supplies and compensation for actors and crew.
ReadingFilm has continued to evolve. In 2015, we began producing ReadingFilmFEST. The first FEST attracted 100 film submissions from eleven countries. From these films, 44 were selected for the inaugural fest, which had 24 filmmakers and nearly 1000 audience members in attendance. In 2016, audience size and film submissions rose and we added a student component. Even more exciting developments are in store for 2017, but that is a another story. Stay tuned!