Club wants to lure more films to Md.


July 26, 1993|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

To Jed Dietz, movies are much more than light projected through celluloid strips. They can change lives. They changed his life.

"There is something about a movie that people saw when they were young that helped them through a crisis. When they are older, it helps them resolve an issue," he said.

Mr. Dietz's issue was joining the "Dump Johnson" movement of the mid-1960s. "My interest in politics -- this is an outrageous thing to tell you -- started with "Mr. Smith goes to Washington." It was largely formed by that," he said. "Movies matter a lot emotionally."

Mr. Dietz, general partner of a film investment partnership, is counting on this emotional appeal and the desire of Marylanders to see their state up on the big screen to boost his unique private-sector film promotion effort.

Along with other film aficionados, Mr. Dietz has formed The Producers Club, a nonprofit group that plans to supplement the state's anemic effort to have more movies shot in the Free State. To do this, the club is asking members to ante up $500 each in exchange for the chance to rub shoulders with Hollywood luminaries.

While other states and cities pour out millions of dollars to attract film production, Mr. Dietz believes The Producers Club is the first private group to attempt the effort.

Officially launched at the premier of "Sleepless In Seattle" at the Senator Theatre on June 17, the club now has about 60 members. The goal of the club is to have about 300 members, which would provide about $150,000 annually for its promotional efforts -- about equal to what the state now spends.

Mr. Dietz, 44, says Maryland offers a variety of backdrops, ranging from the Colonial houses of Annapolis to the rolling hills of Western Maryland. He also touts the general friendliness and cooperation of Maryland residents.

"We have wonderful things to offer, but we don't have enough resources to tell anybody about it," he said.

Born in 1948, Mr. Dietz's family owned the R. E. Dietz Co. of Syracuse, a manufacturer of automobile lights, mirrors and other safety equipment. But despite its industrial roots, there was an outcropping of show business in his family tree with his father working as a stage manager in his early life, Mr. Dietz said.

This predilection blossomed as Mr. Dietz became enamored with the business and tried his hand at acting in high school and college productions. "To this day it is an art form that is the best [blend] of all the arts," he said about theater.

Film-inspired activism

He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Moorehead scholarship from 1965 to 1969. It was during this time that he became a volunteer in the effort led by the late Allard Lowenstein to find a Democratic candidate to run against President Johnson. Called the "Dump Johnson" movement, it was one reason that Mr. Johnson decided not to run again in 1968.

After graduating with a degree in history, Mr. Dietz set off to New York to pursue theater. After working as a page at NBC and studying under drama teacher Stella Adler, he decided he was not cut out for an acting career.

"I believe in the marketplace and nobody offered me any work," he said. "That taught me enough, that I was pretty sure my contribution to the art world would not be as an actor or a director." But he still had the theater bug.

His next venture was as the producer-director of a touring theater group in the area around Chapel Hill. Called the Carolina Repertory Co., the professional theater group was created by Mr. Dietz and friends from his days at Chapel Hill. After two years, Mr. Dietz and the other principals of the theater decided they wanted to follow other pursuits and they folded the group.

"I like the business side of things. And I felt like I should go off and do some -- business -- and learn more about it. I really hadn't spent any time in the business world," he said.

Family business beckons

Joining his family's business as a district sales manager in 1974, he stayed there for 14 years, rising to the position of vice president of sales and marketing. But despite his participation in various community theater efforts, he still wanted to get back into show business.

"The truth is, what you do when you get up in the morning is what defines you. And what I decided I would do is try to figure out some way to participate in the theater or the film business," he said.

In 1988 he left the Dietz Co. and established Film Development Partners, a venture capital group that pays for the writing of movie scripts. So far, 26 people have invested $950,000, most of which has been put into 15 projects. But so far, no script has been sold.

The departure from his family's business did cause some friction.

"I think there was some sense of betrayal, but I've never hidden my interests," Mr. Dietz said. "It was a little rough." But now "everybody is friendly," he said.

His family company was sold in 1991 and the Syracuse factory is now shuttered, Mr. Dietz said.

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