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‘Hillbilly Elegy’ movie gains momentum, and Middletown seeks to take advantage

Published: Sunday, May 19, 2019 @ 2:00 PM

J.D. Vance, author of the best-selling book "Hillbilly Elegy" and Middletown native, was the speaker for the 2017 Alex & Lena Casper Memorial Lecture Thursday at Miami University Middletown.

Many in Middletown are excited about the prospect that the movie adaption of “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” could be filmed in the city and surrounding area.

While J.D. Vance’s best-selling book could be perceived as showing a less-than-flattering view of Middletown, some think it could be just as inspiring as Vance’s story about his journey.

Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan believes it will be a positive impact on the city.

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“There is the potential for some economic activity, a chance to show off our city to new guests, and a way to highlight significant changes over the past 20-plus years since J.D. Vance graduated from Middletown High School,” Mulligan said.

“The crux of J.D.’s story, as he’s shared at various events in town, is his story of progress and achievement. The book wasn’t written to disparage our city. He overcame a lot of challenges in his personal life. There are many individuals that can relate to his family’s struggles. There are many others that were fortunate not to deal with similar issues, so it could highlight the dichotomy faced in many communities.”

When asked if a movie such as “Hillbilly Elegy” would help or hurt the city after being declared a dying city by Forbes magazine more than a decade ago, Mulligan said, “can we drop the dying city reference? The reports of our death were grossly exaggerated. Earlier this year the city received one of Ohio’s Success Awards.”

MORE: Glenn Close to play J.D. Vance’s grandmother in ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ movie

Mary Huttlinger, Middletown Visitors Bureau executive director, agreed with Mulligan that the movie is about one man’s experience and journey.

“It may not depict Middletown in a positive way, but it is a good story,” she said. “People liked the book because people like underdogs.”

MORE: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ movie: The Middletown community is asking Ron Howard to #MakeitinMiddletownRon

Huttlinger said there are a lot of parallels can be drawn to Middletown and Vance’s journeys. She said Vance pulled himself up from his bootstraps by joining the Marines and eventually graduating The Ohio State University and Yale Law School; Middletown is doing the same through its revitalization efforts downtown and elsewhere in the city

MORE: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ movie: We now know who will play the J.D. Vance role

Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard has been spotted several times in the Middletown area scouting locations. During his visits to Middletown, he has become a regular of sorts at the Triple Moon Coffee Company, where he grabs a “Bad Hunter” sandwich and latte.

Ron Howard during his late March visit to the Triple Moon Coffee Company. CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

Howard’s visits have generated local enthusiasm to have as much of the movie filmed in the Middletown area as possible. The Middletown Visitors Bureau has been creating short videos of downtown businesses and local residents encouraging Howard to “Make It In Middletown Ron” or #makeitinmiddletownron.

Over the past few weeks, Howard and Netflix have announced the signing of major stars to appear in the $45 million production, including Amy Adams, Glenn Close and Gabriel Basso.

MORE: Ron Howard movie version of Middletown-inspired ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ goes to Netflix, which will spend $45M

In March, Netflix applied for more than $12.5 million in Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credits for use in the Middletown and Cincinnati areas. It was one of 13 film projects that have applied for the film tax credits. The program provides a refundable and transferable tax credit of 30 percent on in-state spending and crew wages for eligible productions.

While there is an application pending, Huttlinger said she was not sure if any film tax credits would be available until after July 1, when the new state biennium budget goes into effect. She also pointed out there have been tax credits granted for uncompleted or cancelled projects but there is no administrative process to follow up and reallocate those unused film tax credits for new projects.

A message for comment was left with the Ohio Development Services Agency, which oversees the Ohio Film Office.