Cleveland Film Commission Still Better At Hype Than Help

Who's Really Killing Torso? 

Cleveland Film Commission Still Better At Hype Than Help

Cleveland Film Commission President Ivan Schwarz took a cue from his predecessor last week by making a bunch of noise to get his name in the paper. A Plain Dealer story by Sam Fulwood claimed that a movie based on Brian Michael Bendis' graphic novel about the Torso murders was going to film in Michigan if Ohio Republican legislators didn't quickly pass tax incentives for filmmakers. But the real story was about politics and Schwarz's turf wars with the newly reformed Ohio Film Office.

In the '90s, the Ohio Film Office was a one-stop shop for producers who wanted to shoot in our state. It was a direct line to the governor that allowed quick access to locations, permits and monetary incentives. Then a special assistant to mayor Mike White, named Chris Carmody, created his own film commission in Cleveland. One of the first things he did was to lobby then-Governor Bob Taft to shutter the Ohio Film Office, which he apparently viewed as competition. Taft liked the idea so much that he canceled state funding to Carmody's commission as well.

When Carmody resigned last year, freelance locations manager Schwarz stepped in, only to see Governor Strickland resurrect the Ohio Film Office a couple of months later.

The new director of the Ohio Film Office is Christina Grozik, former vice president of Cleveland's commission. From her first day on the job, Grozik has been quietly working behind the scenes, providing information on the industry to legislators who are truly interested in seeing this tax incentive passed. She has also been trying to get the film commissions in Cleveland, Youngstown, Columbus and Cincinnati to work together. So far, only Columbus and Youngstown have shown any interest, a source says, adding that there have been complaints about Cleveland stepping in and handling shoots just a few miles outside of Columbus.

And Schwarz's chest-pounding in The Plain Dealer may have done more harm than good. Says one official: "We really thought this had a chance of passing, but after this, I don't know. I think he angered a lot of people." Politicians - especially Republican politicians - don't like to appear to be doing the bidding of Hollywood.

Incidentally, the article reeked of underreporting. For instance, Matt Damon, who expressed an interest in playing the role of Eliot Ness years ago, is not formally attached and will actually be filming a movie in South Africa in the spring, when Schwarz said Torso is scheduled to begin shooting. In fact, there's no indication the film is any closer to production than it was a decade ago. And Michigan's commission has never heard of the project. - James Renner

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

In a town where most convicted felons can't get a job flippin' burgers, former Cuyahoga County Recorder Patrick O'Malley just got hired as the new marketing director at Thomas J. Unik Company, a local insurance firm. Not bad for a guy who is awaiting sentencing later this month on obscenity charges stemming from evidence the FBI found on his computer, which include - according to Scene's sources, who also viewed the evidence - images of women having sex with dogs and pictures of what appear to be naked prepubescent children.

O'Malley's new boss, Thomas J. Unik Jr., is no stranger to the federal courthouse. Unik was fined $10,000 and got three years' probation in 1997 for his role in a scheme to replace the VIN numbers on stolen cars with "clean" numbers taken from junked vehicles. Unik said his nephew alerted him to a sweet deal on an SUV that he had assumed was a salvaged vehicle. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to alter vehicle identification numbers.

Unik's company was the exclusive insurance agency for the city of Brooklyn until 1994, when City Council discovered the city was being overcharged by about $78,000 a year. Until Council gave him the boot, Unik's arrangement with the city allowed his firm to review bids placed by competing insurance companies. Unik's company was even asked to make a recommendation on its competitor. - Renner FLIP A COIN: TO TAX OR NOT TO TAX

Within months, deposed "Coin"gressman Tom Noe ends his 27-month federal sentence for laundering Bush campaign dough - just in time to start an 18-year sentence for using an odd $50 million rare-coin investment by the state as his personal piggy bank. And by the looks of things, his fellow coin dealers across the state will still be suffering for his sins when the shackles come off for good.

In 1989, state legislators exempted sales tax on the purchase of coins and precious metals to spur investment and help collectors compete with dealers in other states (30 states have the exemption). But around the time Noe was caught pilfering an estimated $13 million in Bureau of Workers' Compensation funds used to amass the coin collection, Republican legislators joined their Democratic colleagues for an abrupt about-face, eliminating the exemption.

"Those legislators in Columbus don't want to touch this because they're afraid of being a 'friend of the coin industry,'" says Akron Coin and Jewelry owner Charlie Kepnes, who organized Ohioans for the Removal of Tax on Coins.

Kepnes estimates he and his 300 or so fellow storefront coin dealers in Ohio have lost about 20 percent of their business since the exemption was squashed.

"We're not implying that Noe wasn't underhanded and didn't deserve what happened," says Kepnes, who went from hobbyist to storekeeper in 1990. "But the people who're really suffering are the brick-and-mortar stores in Ohio who're footing the bill for that tax now." Ohio dealers have to lower their prices, he explains, because collectors can buy in Pennsylvania or Michigan, which don't collect the tax.

"It's like if I buy 100 shares of General Motors stock," says Kepnes, "and I have to give five or six of those shares to the state. What's that?" - Dan Harkins

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