Nashville goes step beyond to attract TV, movie projects

Posted on: Friday - Jul 7, 2023

By Tom Wood for The Ledger

Long known as Music City, Nashville is ready to step out of its comfort zone and boost its image as a destination for film, television and other aspects of entertainment.

The newly formed Nashville Music, Film and Entertainment Commission wants to lure more movie, animation, gaming and TV projects to the city, which in turn will mean more jobs and bring stability to a growing creative workforce that sometimes struggles to make ends meet.

“It’s going to promote Nashville’s entertainment industry. It’s going to help recruit more opportunities to Nashville that will create jobs,” Mayor John Cooper said in May when the commission was created.

Metro Council recently appointed 15 Commission members, each a leader in Nashville entertainment sectors and also includes union representatives for SAG-AFTRA, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and American Federation of Musicians Local 257.

Their first job is identifying a director – hopefully before the Aug. 3 mayoral election – who will work with the Tennessee Entertainment Commission to boost Nashville’s profile as a player in the film/TV world.

“We’ve created this sustainable connection between legislative and executive branches that ensures that no matter how often administrations change, that this position will remain. That was a fundamental aspect of this,” explains District 15 Councilman Jeff Syracuse, who wrote the substitute legislation passed by the Council.

Syracuse says the full Commission will meet quarterly, utilizing both a Music City Music Council as well as a Film and TV Advisory Council to address issues within each field.

“And they’ll have this support and that stable connection, if you will, between the executive and legislative branches so that we can be more proactive in both streamlining and bringing film and TV projects here to Nashville,” Syracuse says.

Commission members include Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association; Ken Levitan, founder and co-president of Vector Management; Hazel Joyner-Smith, founder/CEO of the International Black Film Festival; and producer/actor/writer Willie (Big Fella) Sims, as well as Stephanie Silverman, executive director of Belcourt Theater; Brian Sexton, special projects manager at MDHA; and Shannon Sanders, executive director/creative at Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI).

The Ledger spoke with three commissioners about goals and qualities a director needs.

“It’s going to have to be a unified effort from the commission to look at what we want Nashville to be seen as a film, entertainment and music commission,” Joyner-Smith says. “What we’re going to do is try to do the best that we can for all of the citizens of Nashville and the entertainment industry here in this part of the country.

“We’re going to take our time in terms of making sure that we are taking the best route and the steps that we plan for this Commission. That may be a mammoth task but it’s doable. We have the kind of population here now that’s looking for film because it’s the natural marriage between film and music.”

Silverman the director should be someone “who has the ability to think big, but also to put action behind it, And they are going to have to be able to navigate a governmental body. So having a sense of how to do that successfully is important.

“Without a doubt, I think it’s going to be important that someone who comes in has some connection to the creative world. … I think the perfect person is going to come out of, first, crafting the job and then putting the call out.”

Silverman says Nashville is ready to take the next step to not only draw new creatives to the city but to boost those already here.

“It is about having a group of people who are looking after the whole (and) not siloed totally,” Silverman says. “All of our different sectors have their own pressures and needs. Being able to articulate that and think through that on a city level and a policy level is really important.

“But then also, that we as a group are able to pull back the lens and just look at the creative workforce and continue to make Nashville, in this moment of real transition, a place where artists can live and work.”

Levitan’s primary focus is the music industry but also knows the TV and film worlds. He wants a director to have a similar background with organizational skills.

“I think you need somebody who has a feel for all of that. But I think above all you really need somebody with strong organizational skills and strong skills on how to move things forward and get through some of the governmental situations. It’s really a combination of all those things,” Levitan says.

“In anything that I’ve ever been involved, you want somebody with creative ideas, you want somebody with strong organizational skills, and you want somebody who can learn as well because they’re not going to know everything. You want someone who is able to push the agenda forward, which is really important.”

Bob Raines, executive director of the Tennessee Entertainment Commission, looks forward to working with the Commission.

“The bottom line is this is such a wonderful opportunity for the community and I’m very excited to be working with this new commission, not only on the film side of production but music as well,” Raines says. “It’s about working together to identify and sync and align those, to go and get the right projects here to Nashville and to the state that make sense.”