Mark Adler is the president of VAIdigital LLC, a video support company for the film industry. Mark also manages the Michigan Production Alliance, a trade organization whose mission is to create a more stable financial environment for Michigan's film and video production community.
Over the past 20 years he has been a director, producer and multimedia trainer, providing services and advice on local, regional and national commercials as well as feature films such "ROSARY MURDERS", “HOFFA" "CELEBRATE DETROIT IN IMAX", Paramount Pictures "HARDBALL", Universal/Imagine Entertainment's "8 MILE", Paramount’s 4 Brothers and "Crossover," an HD feature for 360 Films as well as operating teleprompters for Executives of major International Corporations.
Prior to broadcast work, Mark was responsible for the design, oversight and implementation of MacLean-Hunter Cable LTD's community access center in EastPointe and Centerline, Michigan.
Photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.
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A New Landscape
While States like Louisiana, Arizona, New Mexico and Illinois prospered with the advent of tax incentives to attract feature film and commercial producers, Michigan languished.
We saw lay offs, downsizing and crew members continue to find work elsewhere, mirroring the plight of the auto worker.
Constant communications with State level entities like the Michigan Film Office, grassroots lobby efforts and its own need to find revenue stirred Michigan to finally act. Oddly, out of the west region of the State – not the larger south eastern region where the majority of the work tends to be, a Republican law maker sought to craft a rebate plan.
As he began, a well known defense lawyer became Chair of the Michigan Film Advisory Commission. Our bill passed the house, but stalled and died in the Senate some would say, due to his short stay on that commission. In the first and only meeting he ever attended, it is said that he alienated Republican and Democratic appointees and in turn the bill went down.
A new Chair was appointed and a new bill was crafted. This one passed the House but was held in committee for a full year. It was wrested out of the Finance committee and passed just before 2006 ended. Michigan finally had an incentive bill, a graduated rebate allowing filmmakers to get between 12 and 20% direct rebates for productions of $200,000 or more.
"Okay" we said, "now we have something to sell!" Our Film Office representatives went off to the Santa Monica Locations Trade Show, a supermarket for Producers to find where the best deals are. We got some business. "Semi Pro" and "Jumper" shot footage here and they used some of our crews. Still no commercial work accessed this rebate and as 2007 ended, Michigan had seen little to show for its efforts.
Back to the drawing board, a new bill is considered to boost more interest. Now active grassroots groups like the Michigan Production Alliance, the West Michigan Film Video Alliance and The Creative Energy Alliance continued their lobbying but most of the work for a new bill is being completed behind the scenes.
Suddenly, forces begin to push a new bill to be a standout among States. Just before Thanksgiving 2007 celebrities Mike Binder and Mitch Albom catch the spotlight and spur hearings in Lansing.
Hearings in the House and Senate attract now hopeful members of the production community. These celebs, seem to have an influence on the legislators - they listen. They are told that for Michigan to be a player we must jump to the head of the pack of other States offering such incentives. It’s a 5 minute conversation, who has the best deal?
Convinced, the powers that be that in my experience move at glacial speed, promised a new effective bill in 3 months. To all of our amazement that did in fact happen and Michigan now leads the nation with a 40 percent tax or cash rebate.
This changes the landscape.
The bill was passed on April 7 2008. Almost immediately, calls began coming in for feature film work. The $64,000 question; can we support all this work? Our crew is commercial trained, they need feature trained crews and that narrows the field. But one must start somewhere. Where once we had little we now have abundance.
Any shortfalls will be sorted out and we are hoping for long term growth for our infrastructure. Here’s my favorite quote from the Department of Commerce about filmmaking:
"Film production is a 'locomotive' industry, similar to housing construction and automobiles, in that the number of production workers in the industry belies the true impact of the industry on the economy because so many upstream, downstream, and peripheral industries depend on the primary production plant."
In the coming months, watch for articles in local papers about star sightings and road closures, not for construction but "Filmmakers at Work."
This changes everything.
Where’s the work?
Jack Morton - Jackson Dawson – MVP - KDN - Jeff Moon Production Services Avalon Films - Bond Films - Castorri Productions – Millennium - Rare Medium Films.
These are names that resonate in Detroit’s corporate and commercial production universe. Over the last 30 years if the auto companies wanted information to market their products packaged they would call Jack Morton or Jackson Dawson. If they had messages to distribute to their dealers, Jeff Moon Productions, MVP or KDN would have an opportunity to bid on the work…and when their Advertising agencies wanted wizbang national regional or local commercials, Bond, Castorri, Millennium or Rare Medium would be on their radar to produce those spots.
This is what we have been doing in southeast Michigan more than anything else forever, bread and butter corporate and commercial work. Generations of crews were weaned on sheet metal curves. We’d do the work on locations or on sound stages like Grace and Wild, Producers Color Service, City Lights, General Television Network, Comberemere or Stage 3. Now, General Television Network’s stage is gone, (so are they, now operating under a new name "Ringside Creative"), Producer’s Color is gone and Combermere and City Lights are for sale.
All these names….
To the production community in Michigan they represent food on the table and hours of work completed. As the century ended, so too did an era. These are just impressions but I’d have to say that the work we used to do for all these companies, for all those years simply 'went away'.
I’ll grant that some of these companies found niches in the market that have kept them fresh and working and hiring crew. But others have fought for every dollar they now earn.
We are a tough breed here in Michigan and it takes a lot to knock us down. So we have stayed and tried to keep the work going and we hear stories of those who left either for other careers (ebay stores, dog breeding, sales) or left for those greener pastures. L.A. is the most popular place, ah the glamour of show biz. Some made a better life.
A few hardy souls here, got busy trying to determine how to regain some of the work. Organizing, Connecting. We were met with "But who actually wants to come to Detroit on purpose?" Its cold here in the winter and it rains.
We have some of the most beautiful real estate in the country surrounded by a fine system of breathtaking fresh water lakes. AND we have gritty industrial cityscapes too. Commercials? Feature film? Where is the work?
In 2001 when Eminem insisted on shooting "8 Mile" here, Director Curtis Hansen agreed that it was a good move. Detroit is real. So. It wasn’t beauty the people with the work were after. Oh yeah, Michael Bay likes the architecture in downtown Detroit so "The Island" and "Transformer’s" used some our 'flavor' butit seems overall, Hollywood wants a condemned railroad station and images of urban decay to help tell stories.
About this time also, many States seemed to be passing legislation to allow tax credits for filmmakers. Michigan was not on that list. The other States like Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico and Louisiana – even Illinois now had the eyes of producers looking at them to save a buck.
In 2002, Michigan and Louisiana were very close in production revenue from feature film work. Then their incentive marketing kicked in. In 2003 feature filmmakers found "État de Louisiane" and boosted their production take from $12 Million to $100 Million – in one year. That’s the year the Michigan Production Alliance was born. Our goal was, and remains to speak with one voice for the production community and lobby for any political advantage we can find.
Next installment, A new landscape
Visual cues: Shadows of people and buildings, various angles thrown onto other buildings, roads, water, jack hammers, cops, directing traffic, Music, Sports, drive ins… Visuals flash as we hear…….
Voice Over: Male, booming, low, powerful:
"We came from the great world and settled here, we built the skyline, the roads, enhanced the shoreline. Detroiters are hardy, We have what some call that 'midwestern work ethic', yes. We are innovative explorers, always have been always will be – Detroit No Excuses."
We are a window to the world, a car capital, where music is made, a film location, a healthcare mecca, a place for people to gather for sports or history.
Detroit, no excuses.
I’m Mark Adler, Director of the Michigan Production Alliance, striving to be the voice of the video and film production community.
Detroit, we also make films here as we have since before World War Two. You might not know that a vast and diverse film production industry was spawned by the automotive industry right here. Whenever FORD or GM wanted to update information on a model or sell a model, they went to Jam Handy Productions and found workers and facilities ready to roll. Eventually, that work spun off, throughout Michigan creating other production companies and support facilities.
Over the years this industry has been a virtual roller coaster mirroring its automotive parent’s fate. We had some great years, but began a slow burn that has sent our college graduates and creative minds to richer turf.
Flashing forward to this year, April 2008. Governor Granholm signed legislation that puts Michigan in the nation’s spotlight and is about to change the landscape for local crew members and enrich businesses associated with this vibrant, clean industry.
Over the next few days we’ll talk about that. Stay tuned.