Massena ready for its closeup

Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, have thrown their support behind the “Film Massena” initiative and are asking the governor to consider including funding for the effort in her executive budget. Submitted photo

MASSENA — State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo and Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk are asking the governor to include funding for Massena’s filmmaking efforts in her executive budget.

In a letter to Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul, Sen. Griffo, R-Rome, and Assemblyman Walczyk, R-Watertown, ask her to “consider supporting some organic creativity which has recently sparked interest” with the creation of Film Massena.

Film Massena is a group of citizens who are trying to bring filmmaking and filmmaking opportunities to the area. Elijah Winfrey is the Film Massena coordinator.

“The ‘Film Massena’ initiative, started by Mr. Elijah Winfrey, has already made great strides bringing the thriving film industry to Northern New York,” Sen. Griffo and Assemblyman Walczyk said in their letter to Gov. Hochul.

They said Massena “is primed with potential” and the region’s landscape and natural resources make it a premier location for filmmaking.

“Our great state is represented by Massena when visitors come down from Canada, anglers come up for the best fishing in North America, or New Yorkers fly in for a North Country gateway. As we work to rebuild the State’s economy, this initiative bring temporary and permanent jobs and economic impact to an area of the State which needs it,” Sen. Griffo and Assemblyman Walczyk said.

“While crafting the Executive Budget proposal, we hope you’ll take Film Massena into consideration. If you have any questions or would like to see firsthand the successes Mr. Winfrey has already achieved and how his idea is ready to take Massena to the next level, we would be happy to help facilitate a meeting,” they said.

Mr. Winfrey said Film Massena has made great strides since its inception, starting out with the creation of a local law governing filmmaking in the village.

“I’ve been working on trying to get film in the forefront of people’s minds in the north country since 2014. The actual organization for Film Massena started out in January 2020. The first thing we did was we went through the guidelines for the village of Massena to establish those because there wasn’t anything in the code prior to that,” he said.

The guidelines are geared toward commercial filmmakers who have crews of three or more people. They were written through a collaboration between Deputy Mayor Matthew J. LeBire, Code Enforcement Officer Aaron Hardy and Film Massena.

By developing those guidelines, Mr. Winfrey said they protect Massena whenever someone films in the village “and make sure one bad apple doesn’t ruin everything. If we just have rules and they know what they are, everybody’s good.”

After the guidelines were developed, he said they created a film permit.

“This is all part of a five-step plan that I had developed whenever I was trying to get people involved with Film Massena, and I’m lucky to have a great team around me to help me kind of stay focused on that five-step plan,” he said.

The second step is the creation of a Film Massena Academy, which Mr. Winfrey said they’re currently working on, along with getting the group’s nonprofit status.

“The goal of it is going to be that when you graduate from the academy you are able to make independent movies on your own. We’re doing it because we want to make sure that when film companies come here, we have an educated workforce ready for them,” he said.

They have already identified the head of the academy, and professionals in the film industry will serve as teachers. Classes will be held once a week for a year and will be geared toward both actors and non-actors.

“They’re going to be teaching acting. They’re going to be teaching screenwriting, makeup effects, green screen, video editing, basically as much as they possibly can within a year’s time,” Mr. Winfrey said.

He said they’re hoping to start the academy next fall, but they want to ensure they have their nonprofit status first.

“I don’t want to start any fundraising until we have the nonprofit status so that everything’s official. My goal is to keep the tuition either free or very affordable,” he said.

A partnership between Film Massena and the Massena Public Library can give individuals a head start, offering books on the trade.

“People can go check those books out right now. There’s over 20 books in the library that wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for that partnership between Film Massena and the library,” Mr. Winfrey said.

A third step in Mr. Winfrey’s five-step plan is the creation of a “Green Light Fund.” That will be funded by donations and, if filmmakers come to Massena and don’t have the budget to make their movie, they can apply for funds.

“Assuming they make their movie here, they have the potential to be able to get some funding for their movie,” he said.

Steps four and five are the establishment of Massena film festivals and the building of a filming lot in Massena so production wouldn’t be halted during the winter.

“We can just go inside our own filming lot and do what we have to do. The goal at the end of all of this is to be able to have movie productions here year-round and really hopefully bring another section of money into Massena, but also jobs into Massena as well,” Mr. Winfrey said.

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