Eric Parmater and Elizabeth Bell have been helping Native Americans and other underserved communities find work on movie and television productions
Before filming began on the 2017 film "Wind River" — a neo-Western starring Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner — writer/director Taylor Sheridan decided a crew composed of at least some Native Americans would lend authenticity to the production.
After all, much of the action in the murder mystery took place on tribal lands in Wyoming. At Sheridan’s behest, Ohio natives Eric Parmater and Elizabeth Bell, both of whom worked on the production (Bell as a credited producer) took the lead on hiring American Indians for some roles behind the camera.
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Since then, Parmater, who moved to Columbus from Cincinnati as a young adult, and Bell, who grew up in Bexley, have kept that emphasis on diversity at the forefront of their hiring practices, including their work on the Paramount Network series "Yellowstone."
The couple — with guidance from Film Columbus, the city’s film commission — recently founded a nonprofit called Gateway Entertainment to provide training and job placement to help not only Native Americans, but also any underserved community, break into the film industry.
The organization and its scope was revealed last month during the inaugural Indigenous Filmmakers Lounge hosted during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Film Columbus sponsored and helped organize the lounge, where indigenous filmmakers could gather on Jan. 24 and 25 to listen to panels and network.
Production crew jobs are abundant and well-paying — $90,000 a year, plus benefits, Bell said — so the crux is simply on connecting qualified workers with a production in need of their skilled labor.
"It’s really acting as a bridge between underserved communities and the need for a well-trained crew," said Bell, 48, a film producer and entertainment attorney who now lives in Los Angeles with Parmater. "There’s no lack of demand for the crew; it’s really just a matter of matchmaking."
Though the film industry has recently been under pressure to increase diversity in its casting choices, such efforts have yet to catch on behind the camera, Bell and Parmater said. But they said the benefits of having a variety of perspectives and backgrounds on set can’t be understated.
"They’re really giving a lot of the flavor and personality to the unseen part of the production," said Parmater, 54, the founder of ROT Films. "If I have a more diverse crew, there’s gonna be an opportunity to make things more interesting."
They hope Gateway Entertainment will spread that mission beyond their own productions.
For Film Columbus, which sponsors an annual scriptwriting contest that gives central Ohio teenagers a shot at getting their short films made, it was a natural match, Executive Director John Daugherty said.
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"It’s about providing opportunity to people who would otherwise not have that opportunity," he said. "I thought it was really important for us to be a part of it."
As Gateway Entertainment gets off the ground, both Bell and Parmater envision growing the partnership in central Ohio with Film Columbus.
"We think it’s a great opportunity to try and reach those communities that might not otherwise have benefited from some of the progress," Bell said. "It’s a high priority for us given our ties to the city."
But in the short term, the duo — with assistance from Daryl Begay, a film producer and citizen of the Navajo Nation — intends to open filmmaking workshops in American Indian communities, as well as in schools and community centers throughout the West Coast.
Additional plans include the initiation of a fellowship program that allows film productions to hire at no cost those who have completed the training, and the development of a database of workers for productions looking to diversify their crews.
The effect could be seen as early as June, when filming begins on the third season of "Yellowstone," the drama series starring Kevin Costner for which Parmater and Bell are involved as liaisons between the series and American Indians. The intention, they said, is to fill a fellowship position within each department.
"If you’ve got a diverse crew, the chances of you getting something more authentic, with a lot of depth and a little more richness, is likely," Bell said. "What Gateway is doing is really important to opening those doors."