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Cleveland filmmakers set to debut a ‘banger’

Since 2007, over 300 productions have filmed in Ohio. Those productions include commercials, documentaries, independent and studio feature films, music videos, public service announcements, photo shoots, television shows, video games and web series.

According to the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, when the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit passed, it was estimated to generate an increase in local spending by $100 million and create 500 full-time jobs.

A study conducted by Cleveland State University found, since inception of the tax credit in 2009, the increase in media sector activities has resulted in $400 million in economic impact, the creation of 1,729 full-time equivalent jobs and $2.01 return on every $1 investment (for every $1 spent by the state, $2.01 went back into Ohio’s economy).

Cleveland State University even recently announced plans to create a film school, add a building, and collaborate with the film commission to provide a pipeline of talent into this burgeoning industry.

As this new field develops, Skip Thomas Productions have shined up their surf boards, took a trip to California and positioned themselves to ride this wave as they prepare to debut their third feature film “Banger” this upcoming Saturday, May 14, at Solon Cinemas.

And, with “Banger” already expected to be a hit as it boast Hollywood talent such as Clifton Powell, Omar Gooding, and Ohio native Joe Estevez; Skip Thomas Productions’ founder Mike Berry hopes this latest movie puts Cleveland on the map for Indie filmmakers.

“There are no other independent movies coming out of this city with more impact than ‘Banger,’” said Berry, who wrote, directed and co-producers the movie.

Set in Cleveland, described as a suspense thriller, “Banger” is a full-length feature film that explores a turf war between two street gangs, causing the death of a Haitian immigrant. Then, in true Skip Thomas fashion, viewers can expect twists and turns leading to a jaw-dropping conclusion.

Skip Thomas Productions has already sold out one show and anticipate selling 1600 tickets by the time it’s all said and done. “You can feel the energy throughout the city. I feel it when I get phone calls. This energy goes beyond who has the best camera,” Berry added.

Berry went on to say “Banger” has united the city for a cause, one that is bigger than him. He believes it has the potential to take us to the next level in terms of independent film production, to get eyes looking at Cleveland. “That’s my goal.”

When asked how it felt to work with seasoned talent, Berry said, “Surprisingly, I felt like I was doing what I’m supposed to do. I paid my dues. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I went in like a professional, did what I’m supposed to do, and they respected it.”

Berry, who published “Dangerous Times,” a book he wrote while in prison and self-published after his release, about ten years ago, explained that his biggest challenge throughout this journey to this point has been getting everyone to see the vision.

“It’s hard because I know everyone is not going to see it.” But, he did manage to find one person: his business partner, Tina Hobbs.

“Tina get’s it,” he said. “Tina is focused, driven, can see the bigger picture. She’s willing to sacrifice. She’s an overachiever too. We work well together.”

Hobbs, also a Cleveland native, is co-producer of “Banger,” COO of Skip Thomas Productions, and owner of HobbsStyle Casting & Production. She holds a Bachelors of Business Administration from Cleveland State University and has over 15 years of analytical and strategic planning experience in corporate America as in insurance underwriter.

“He’s everything creative. I’m everything business,” said Hobbs, who does everything from casting to pulling the permits. Interestingly enough, the two met on Facebook and dated before the thought of making movies arose. Although they stopped dating, they still had a connection. “I know we were supposed to do something together.”

Apparently, Berry knew the purpose to be filmmaking. He also knew if they went the romantic route, it wouldn’t work. “I told Tina, it would take five years and we’ve done it in four.”

Despite having no budget and no experience, during the course of this time, they’ve produced “Secrets,” “If You Knew Better, You’d Do Better” and the television pilot “3rd Floor West,” all of which have won awards. “Our goal has always been to make each project bigger and better. Banger is our biggest to date,” said Hobbs.

“We had to rebrand, change the marketing strategy and the production strategy. We have real actors,” said Berry, talking about how they’ve reached this point. “That increased the perceived value. Now, all we have to do is deliver.”

Berry said “Banger” pushes the envelope. It reaches different demographics and sets to bar for independent filmmakers in Cleveland. He hopes others aspire to exceed it. But, for now, he’s humbled by the show of support.

“I couldn’t do it alone. It’s a living, breathing thing. I couldn’t buy all the tickets. Everyone who bought a ticket has invested in it, are a part of this history. We are all linked together.”

Having beaten the odds, going from a formerly incarcerated person to seeing a dream become a reality, he advised those re-entering society to stay the course.

“You have to make a conscious decision to do whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes. Money is the by-product of the effort. Even if I never make a dime, I’m leaving something behind to say I was here. I’m becoming immortal.”

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