Two film artists want to make Boise a post-production paradise

It could be the key to developing the state’s movie industry

doland@idahostatesman.comFebruary 21, 2014 

  • LEAGUE43 FILM SCHOOL: Acting for film classes are 5:45-7 p.m. Tuesdays or Thursdays, March 4-May 27; $200 for the 12-week course. Film production class is 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesdays or Thursdays March 4-May 27; $500 for 12-week course at League43.com.

Who knew John Travolta could paint? Well, actually, he probably can’t, unless you watch him on the computer screens at HieroGraphics, where Jesse Cordtz and Chris Ervin are hard at work on Travolta’s next feature “The Forger.”

Sporting long hair and an “artistic” goatee, Travolta sits at a canvas duplicating an Impressionist masterpiece. He sketches, applies paint and turns a blank canvas into an exact forged copy — at least on computer.

It’s all thanks to the high-tech, post-production wizardry Cordtz and Ervin whip up in their Boise Bench studio.

This could be the future of Idaho’s film industry, which currently feels stalled waiting for the Legislature to move forward with tax incentives geared to bring production companies to the state, Ervin says.

“We’re bringing it in through the back door of technology and creative,” Ervin says. “Film is great, but what we’re doing is offering a post industry here. So, when the films do come, we’re already here. We’re building the infrastructure.”

They’re building more than that — Ervin and Cordtz want to create a network of post-production companies that works together to bring projects to Idaho. They officially launched League43, named for the 43rd state.

“It’s a consortium of small companies that came together to create a cinema and commercial pipeline,” Ervin says.

The idea of calling it a league came from their love of comics like DC’s “Justice League.”

“We feel we have some responsibility because we are lucky enough to be working in this state to return the favor,” Cordtz says. “We have a responsibility to the community to create work and to pass it on.”

They want to use this opportunity to fill the gaps in Idaho’s film community, so they’re developing a school that teaches both acting and computer skills to kids.

The League43 Film School will offer 12-week courses starting March 4 for acting and film technology.

They’ll work with League filmmakers, screenwriters, producers and editors to learn the ropes and create their own short films along the way.

The acting classes are for kids 8 to 13; film production classes are for ages 10 to 15.

“The school is about developing the missing link between the talent pool and the work,” Ervin says. “It’s part of the long-term plan.”

Each League43 company has a different specialty that combines with the goal of creating a full-scale post-production house, Ervin says.

“And we want to keep it all in Idaho,” he says.

Post-production covers everything that’s done after the principal photography is completed and the stars go home. It can include everything from the kind of visual trickery used in the Travolta film to creating new backgrounds, explosions, blood spatter and more effects that intensify the film’s look.

The kind of work these guys do are the effects you’ll never notice, Cordtz says.

“We’re stealthy,” he says.

They do a lot of green-screen work, such as putting different locations behind actors who are driving in a car, and they created magical backgrounds and text for a musical Virgin Air Lines commercial.

Cordtz grew up in Boise, graduated from Boise State University in 2005, then stayed on to teach 3D animation for four years. In 2008, Cordtz started his company in his cave-like garage and gave it the name HieroGraphics (after hieroglyphics).

He and Ervin met at a media day at the Statehouse that year.

Ervin, who has roots in the Hollywood post-production industry as a visual-effects supervisor, had moved his company Velocity Ape FX from Los Angeles to Spirit Lake the year before and just came down for the day.

“It was an instant connection,” Ervin says.

Ervin hired Cordtz for several projects, including creating colorful animated blocks behind Chris Brown for his 2012 Grammy performance of “Turn Up the Music.”

“I’ve been coming back more and more, and now we’ve decided it’s time — 2014 is the year we get the League up and running,” Ervin says.

Ervin plans to relocate in Boise in the spring and go full throttle on League43.

Ervin made the industry connection to Code Entertainment, an independent production company that does high-production value films, in 2002.

This is his ninth project with them.

The next is “Mission: Blacklist,” an even larger budget project in development.

Ervin and Cordtz work with other members of the League, including film company Tick Tock Media Productions for photography and composer Robin Zimmerman for scoring and sound design.

Most of their shooting has been on location. The Hiero guys spent a month on location in Boston shooting Travolta for the painting sequences.

“Eventually we’ll need a bigger studio and sound stage,” Cordtz says.

Once they get it all together, having a post-industry established could become another kind of incentive for film production to come to Idaho.

“When we have everything there, why not just shoot there?” Ervin says. “That’s the incentive for us. It’s not a tax break, it’s we’re already here and we’ll save you money.”

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