Former BR film commissioner turns movie producer

Amy Mitchell-Smith
Amy Mitchell-Smith

Michael Farrar

Special to theadvocate.com

Are you brave enough to quit a stable job and reach for your dream career? After five years of attracting films to the Capital City, Amy Mitchell-Smith, former executive director of the Baton Rouge Film Commission, did just that when she stepped away from her job with the city to produce movies. For her first production, Mitchell-Smith wisely reached out to Louisiana-based writer/director Zachary Godshall, who was looking to make his fourth feature film.

“If you’ve got a director with a track record and extremely strong original source material, that’s an exciting place to be as a new producer,” Mitchell-Smith said. “I’m so thrilled for this project and projects to come.”

As a director, Godshall has gotten Sundance Film Festival buzz around two of his movies. Even though he was already developing a depression-era tale called “Posheen” with two film producers in Nashville, Godshall invited Mitchell-Smith to join the team. After reading the screenplay, she was ready to commit.

“Prior to landing in Louisiana, I was fortunate enough to do international (film) sales and acquisitions at companies like Miramax,” Mitchell-Smith said. “I’ve read many scripts from my years at Miramax. This story is unique, strange, and funny.”

As Mitchell-Smith transitions from city film commissioner to film producer, Godshall is moving past shoe-string budgets to relying on producers to get up-front funding for his films.

Luckily, Mitchell-Smith takes the challenge of fundraising in stride.

“While this is a big leap in budget for him, by normal industry standards, we’re still making this film for a very modest budget,” she said.

Although Mitchell-Smith’s father did not work in film, his profession did contribute to his daughter’s approach to the movie industry.

“My dad was a brilliant banker [who] passed away very suddenly earlier this year. He was my career mentor and always supported my vision for the film industry.”

With film industry experience and business mentoring from her father, Mitchell-Smith knew business finance and the details of movie deal-making before she started her new company, Cienega Motion Picture Group. Now, she plans on taking a three-fold approach to raise the funds for “Posheen,” a plan that includes the use of the state’s film tax credits.

Mitchell-Smith said tax credits account for almost a third of the movie’s budget, although the foundation of the overall budget will be private equity.

“Between private equity and the Louisiana tax credits, we will have two thirds of our budget,” she said. “The final third of our financing will come from a European distributor.”

Mitchell-Smith’s extensive knowledge of Louisiana locations are also a big help. For example, she plans to get the needed look for “Posheen” by using existing locations instead of building expensive sets.

“We have plantation homes and churches that are actually of the [1930s time-period]. That’s how we’re going to create the right atmosphere for the modest budget in which we’re making the film.”

However, the future of film in Louisiana, as Mitchell-Smith sees it, is going beyond being a cost-saving place to shoot other people’s movies. She believes the key to growth is developing local projects into professionally produced films.

“Vendors, stages, tax credits, the crew base...everything else is here,” Mitchell-Smith said. “But more writers, directors, producers...that’s the missing link. If we grow that, we’re a force to be reckoned with.”