Throughout her award-winning 28-year career, Laurie Richards drew nationally known directors and actors to film in Nebraska, generating millions in state revenue.
When it comes to bringing a story to life on screen, a film’s authenticity is often accentuated by its backdrop. Vast plains and rugged terrains can’t hide in Nebraska, where the still, stunning scenery in Sioux and Scotts Bluff Counties captivated a pair of Oscar-winning directors scouting locations for their Western film. Relationships take center stage here too, and Film Officer Laurie Richards’ statewide network has taken movie production in Nebraska on new paths for nearly three decades.
Richards’ work with the Coen Brothers, who filmed “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” in 2018, is one of many examples of movie development she’s spearheaded. Richards began her role as film liaison for the Department of Economic Development in 1994, and her extensive work with location managers, producers, directors and writers has created consistent filming opportunities in Nebraska. Scouting locations has been tantamount to encouraging production in the state; getting on the road at the drop of a hat has been routine. Richards officially stepped down from her role this week.
“I’m ready to hand off this position. It’s been a wonderful ride and I have been so fortunate to be a part of this exciting and growing industry in Nebraska,” Richards said. “I love driving across the state, seeing old friends and meeting new ones, as well as learning about a new business or activity that can be cross-promoted for film and media production and used by the locals and tourists alike.”
Richards spent time mentoring the Nebraska Film Office’s new leader, Gentri Shopp, this summer. Shopp will focus on network development and film promotion. She will continue to lead marketing efforts stemming from her initial role with DED’s talent team, which was designed to develop a growing workforce pipeline in Nebraska. She brings social media, talent development marketing and professional photography experience to the position.
“I am so very pleased to have DED’s Gentri Shopp stepping into my shoes, so to speak,” said Richards. “She has a great attitude, is easy to work with, understands challenges within the industry and loves meeting people. I think she is perfectly suited to liaise with Nebraskans and market to outside opportunities. I am excited for her and the State of Nebraska.”
Richards compares responsibilities in Nebraska’s Film Office to hosting tourists in the state for an extended amount of time. Her efforts have generated millions of dollars spent in Nebraska during filming. Production companies hire local crews, pay for the use of locations, and rent hotel and motel rooms, Air B&B’s, RV’s, trucks, trailers and cars for movie crews and actors. They also take advantage of area amenities by eating out, using regional caterers and shopping locally.
The Film Office consistently regenerates a database of photos from both urban and rural areas, such as Omaha, Scottsbluff, Valentine and Hastings. These efforts have been key in understanding how the state’s unique areas can be used to fit movie storylines. Last month, Richards sent photos to location managers inquiring about filming a well-known episodic television streamer. Location scouts are currently looking at sites in Nebraska. She’s also been in touch with an actor who has a screenplay set in the heart of Nebraska’s Sandhills.
Tracking the progress of actors, directors and producers Richards has worked with in the industry is also an important part of keeping Nebraska open to new opportunities. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” earned a Golden Osella Award for Best Screenplay in 2018; the movie was also in the running at the 2019 Academy Awards in the Best Achievement in Music, Costume Design and Adapted Screenplay categories.
The film “NOMADLAND” earned Best Picture, a Best Director award for Chloé Zhao and a Best Actress award for Frances McDormand at the 2021 Oscars. McDormand also received a Golden Globe and Golden Lion award for her performance. She filmed the movie in the same part of the state where her husband Joel Coen and his brother Ethan shot their 2018 Western. Richards worked on Nebraska Director Alexander Payne’s movie “Citizen Ruth” in the early 90’s, which led to a string of well-known Payne movies filmed in Nebraska. Richards and Payne are both past recipients of Nebraska’s Mary Riempa Ross Award for their extensive work in the industry. The award pays tribute to those whose roots or artistic concerns are grounded in the Great Plains region and culture, and whose life and work has contributed significantly to the art of cinema and our state.
“If I’ve done anything to help put Nebraska on the map for film production, I am happy about that. I love scouting sites with the location managers and key department heads, and I always find something new to see and record,” Richards said. “We have so much to offer here.”
Richards applauded the formation of the Nebraska Film Office Fund, which was approved by the Nebraska Legislature in 2021 to encourage the development of Nebraska-centric stories. The Film Office is currently working on three projects that will tap into the fund over the next several months. She’s anxious to watch Shopp cultivate additional relationships in the industry and build on partnerships she formed with Payne and the Coen Brothers, as well as Bruce Cohen, Andrea Arnold, Juliann Nicholson, Timotheé Chalamet and many others over the years.
“It’s been my greatest joy to see their projects take hold and use Nebraska as a backdrop,” she said. “We have many more stories to share with the world.”
For additional information about the Nebraska Film Office, contact Gentri Shopp at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 402-471-4296.