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HB 1523, workforce training among topics at film industry panel

JEFF CLARK/SUN HERALD 
 Actor Marco St. John of Ocean Springs, left, Biloxi Mayor Andrew 'FoFo' Gilich, producer Kyle Bucher and Mississippi Film Commission Director Ward Emling are among the participants in a panel discussion on the state's film industry Saturday, June 11, 2016 at the Grand Theatre in D'Iberville.
JEFF CLARK/SUN HERALD Actor Marco St. John of Ocean Springs, left, Biloxi Mayor Andrew 'FoFo' Gilich, producer Kyle Bucher and Mississippi Film Commission Director Ward Emling are among the participants in a panel discussion on the state's film industry Saturday, June 11, 2016 at the Grand Theatre in D'Iberville.

D'IBERVILLE -- Actors, producers, directors and others with ties to the state's film industry joined together in a panel discussion Saturday morning at the Grand Theatre as part of the annual Sun and Sand Festival.

Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Film Office, moderated the discussion.

Between 2006 and 2016, the number of films produced in Mississippi has grown considerably, with South Mississippi becoming an attractive area for producers. In 2105, the Randall Emmett-produced action thriller "Precious Cargo" was shot on the Coast. Emmett brought his production company back in May to shoot "Southern Fury" in Biloxi.

Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich, one of the panelists, said the film industry has been a "win-win" for Biloxi and other Coast cities.

"This is a huge opportunity from an economic standpoint," he said. "We've been very successful with the film industry and we hope to build on that."

Usable workforce

Some on the panel said as more film productions are starting to roll into the state, having a trained, film-specific workforce is a growing concern.

"The biggest challenge for the film industry is the workforce," Emling said. "We're always looking to train workers for the film industry."

Filmmaker Miles Doleac, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi's School of Mass Communications and Journalism, said the training process is "slow."

"The biggest problem in the state is crew infrastructure," he said. "Unfortunately, on both of my films, I've had to bring in people from out of state."

But Doleac said he is always willing to work with a local crew.

"I've had some great success with locals," he said. "I've worked with a guy named Michael Williams from West Point and I trusted him to be the director of photography on my last film."

The impact of HB 1523

Some panelists also expressed opinions on HB 1523, the "religious freedom law" passed by state legislators early this year. Although no one could directly show how the new law has affected the state's film industry, most of the panelists voiced their opposition to it.

"As a gay person, I am personally against this bill," director Robbie Fisher of Jackson said. "But I can see a positive outcome because of the open discussions it has created."

Doleac said it is up to Mississippians who oppose the law to get it repealed.

"The (U.S.) Supreme Court overturning the bill isn't go to do Mississippi any good," he said. "We need to rise up and get that damn thing struck down."

Ocean Springs actor Marco St. John, who was in recent reboot of Alex Haley's "Roots," said the bill had good intentions.

"The bill came from a good place," he said. "I don't think we needed the bill, but people are concerned about their religious freedom on a national level. However, we will bounce back from the fallout."

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