Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hollywood Comes to Town: Incentives can lure film directors to Michigan, but will it be enough to make them stay?

Michigan Radio

by Jennifer Guerra

(2008-10-09) Movie sets are popping up all over Michigan. Thanks in large part to the state's new film incentives. But incentives come and go. Next year another state could offer even better ones. Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra looks at what some people in the state are doing to get the film industry to stay here for good.

The Michigan Film Office has been swamped with scripts since April. That's when state legislators passed what are arguably the best film incentives in the country. Janet Lockwood is the director of the Michigan Film Office: Here she is with a breakdown of the incentives:

"It's a basic 40% across the board refundable tax credit," says Lockwood. "If they shoot in one of the 103 core communities, they are eligible for up to 42% across the board."

Incentives can only do so much to get a movie made here. Without the infrastructure in place to actually support those incentives – things like production houses, sound stages, and crew – it'll be harder to get Hollywood to come back to Michigan to shoot a 2nd time.

That's where Christos Moisides and Michael Sinanis come in. There the guys behind 23rd Street Studios in Detroit. 23rd Street is undergoing some massive renovations right now. That's because -- up until a year ago – it was a working auto factory. That is until General Motors took its business out of state and to Mexico.

Michael Sinanis says the "whole time I'm thinking: how do we bring labor work back to Michigan? The movie industry. The movie industry is a labor intensive industry. You cannot make these movies without labor."

Or, he adds, labor equipment. Sinanis plans to keep a lot of the old auto factory equipment in the 25-ton crane hanging above our heads. Instead of using it to move auto parts around, it'll move movie sets.

Christos Moisides is the other guy behind 23rd Street. He made movies in L.A. for 15 years before he moved back to Detroit.

One of the things he wants to do at 23rd Street is teach people how "to become either electricians or grips or best boys and gaffers. At end of day, state looks at incentive and say: was it beneficial for the state financially and did it help unemployed workers become skilled and employed workers?"

Well frankly, it's too early to answer either of those questions. But we can speculate. The Michigan Film Office predicts it'll rake in $100 million for the state this year because of the incentives. That's up from the $2 million the film industry brought in last year.

In terms of saying how many new jobs the incentives created...there have been a couple smaller film-related businesses that have opened up – like casting agencies and catering companies. And in order to make a film, you need crew, right? So employment numbers should be going up, too. But David Hasham isn't convinced that's happening.

"Unfortunately," says Hasham, "I have a feeling, as do many of my friends, that they are bringing crew from L.A. That's frustrating."

Hasham recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a film degree. He had planned to do the L.A. thing right after graduation. But now he and some of his friends plan to stick around until January to see how the incentives pan out. So far, he says, they're feeling boxed out.

"We want to make movies," says Hasham. "That's basically what it boils down to. And if we're not making movies, we're going to go to someplace that will allow us to do that."

That's the last thing Mark Adler wants. Adler runs a non-profit called the Michigan Production Alliance. It's kind of like a middle man for the film industry. He provides the big, out-of-town production companies with a list of people who can help crew the set. People like David Hasham.

"We want to create a creative economy," says Adler. "For many years, the film schools have been putting these guys out. And if we can keep them here with this creative economy, that would be a wonderful thing."

David Hasham agrees. It would be wonderful to stay in Michigan. But it'd be more wonderful to make movies.

© Copyright 2008, MICHIGAN RADIO

Listen to the Audio Report:

No comments: