Most of you are familiar with the recent flurry of activity in Michigan's film industry, due to some very competitive tax incentives that are attracting a lot of attention.
The idea seems to be working. As an example, many friends of mine are now working on … movies! Yes, they're working "in the business" and they still live here in Michigan. They didn't have to leave home to get work. Well, my friend Chris did. He had to move from Lansing to Detroit for about six months, because he has back-to-back projects. Moving here temporarily makes sense because of gas prices.
I've heard about the controversies and arguments over the value of the film incentives, but from where I sit, I already can see new opportunities and an enthusiasm that didn't exist in our community before.
Another example: one friend was a POC for a new film project (that's Production Office Coordinator, as we say in the business), but when that bogged down, she quit and moved over the "Clint Eastwood film". Just like that… like she moved from Caribou to Starbucks! I think this is how it must be in Hollywood… talented people just picking and choosing their projects… like Brad and Angelina!
This is what we need, a whole new mentality. A new culture, based on creativity, imagination, hard work and production. OK, we may be a bit rusty on those first two, but as for hard work and production, we wrote the book... er, script!
Changing over from an industrial mindset to a (film) production culture isn't such a stretch. Especially given the new tools and techniques used for digital film, video, media and other entertainment content. We're smart, connected and computer literate. And our engineering background gives us a head start, with a zero tolerance approach to production and a built in philosophy of being problem solvers. That's something we've always had. It's part of our work ethic. Part of our culture. It's always been our way. Now we just need to repurpose it to serve the film and entertainment markets.
What we haven't had is the practice. Until now, we just haven't had the opportunities to work on films, to be immersed in a project. The influx of new business gives us a chance to work in film, get the experience, and from there, keep getting better and better.
Another interesting benefit is the number of schools, studios and other infrastructure being built to support the industry. These aren't people pitching tents, they're planning permanent bricks and mortar buildings designed to service film projects for years to come.
We also need to practice our curtsies. That is, we need to be friendly, hospitable and provide quality service and professionalism. I believe this is a key component to our growth in this industry. And it's part of building the film culture. Where we just learn how to be the best in this particular market, through practice and perfecting our craft. Once we have done that, we'll be competitive on many levels beyond incentives, and the cost savings will just be a nice bonus. With the right culture in place, Hollywood will come here for us because it will make sense.
I was asked to write a blog. And I'm very happy and honored to share my thoughts here on Metromode. Thanks for taking the time to read them and I look forward to working with you on a future project.
I'm going back now to work the Film Festival, and I certainly hope you will find time to come down and enjoy all the very hard work hundreds of volunteers have dedicated to putting on a world class event for Detroit and Windsor.
See you there!
I've always been an artist. The story goes, that when I was about 2 years old, I was drawing on my grandma's dining room table with a crayon… I mean- right on the table, no paper, just right on the wood! That could have been the end of my art career, but instead of knocking me into next Tuesday, grandma just slipped a sheet of paper under my hand and I kept on drawing.
I like that story because it's about encouragement. Grandma didn't yell or scream or tell me how bad I was. She just saw the artist in me and encouraged me to keep drawing.
I tell you that story to tell you this one.
The Michigan Film Incentives are… encouraging. It's a good word, it means to help along, to support. And this state package is certainly doing that. Through the film incentives, lots of people I know are encouraged to find work on films or for new studios, schools and businesses that are preparing for the incoming work.
The tax incentive itself won't fix a thing. It just sits there unless real, dedicated hard working people roll up their sleeves and do something! But that's exactly what's happening. Producers, camera people, concierges, production assistants, actors, extras and many others are out there right now creating the action that will make changes to our economy.
There have been incentives and government support before, especially for our automotive industry (right, Lee?). Hard working people took that encouragement and kept on going, and it made a difference.
Today, I am still an artist. I may have moved from crayons to computers, but I'm still drawing because grandma kept me quietly supplied with fresh paper and crayons and that encouragement made all the difference.
When grandma passed, one of the things I inherited was a folder about 3 inches thick, full of all my drawings. She'd kept every single one. That encouraged me even more.
The Detroit Windsor International Film Festival is here! After 14 months of working on the various components and working with so many dedicated volunteers, we reach that interesting crossroads of joy and panic, of fear and confidence- when it all comes together.
Now, I have been trained for this. After 16 years as a director of live theatre, I've learned to plan, block, design, cast, rehearse, tweak (recast) and direct a live play performance, then in the end, just let the show "happen"!
I literally "give the show" to the actors, saying, "It's your show". And then step back and watch, knowing it's going to unfold no matter what, trusting that all that planning and rehearsal will pay off.
Lines may be flubbed, entrances delayed or skipped entirely. The lead singer might hit an off note and the ingénue could trip on the rug at the most inopportune moment. But the play goes on. And the actors are the ones who make that happen. They've learned to trust each other and they know what the story is about. They'll do whatever it takes to move the story forward. And the play goes on.
With the DWIFF, I'm also a player, or volunteer. Our great DWIFF Cast is ready to open the show, and once the curtain goes up, be prepared for a great time! We've got the props, lines and blocking arranged. We even have three great Acts (Films, TechFair, Children's Program), following by lots of afterglows, always an important part of any production!
So come to the show. We're ready for a great weekend of promoting our creative community and emerging film culture. That's really the story here, we're promoting our collective talent and resources through fun events that give us all a chance to be part of show biz.
Film as a metaphor. Think about it. I think of film as the perfect metaphor for "community building".
When you go to the movies, do you watch the credits all the way through at the end? My wife and I do. Every time. It's our way of paying respect to those who worked so hard to make that film a reality.
After most people have left the theatre and the young theatre employees sweep up the popcorn and candy wrappers, our two boys dance to the soundtrack as Meg and I watch the hundreds- sometimes thousands of names float up across the screen, marking their contributions. I am always fascinated at the sheer volume of unique job titles, skills, backgrounds and capabilities that it takes to bring a film to the screen.
I've been invited to share a blog here on metromode as we wrap up a year of planning and get ready to introduce the first Detroit Windsor International Film Festival (DWIFF). I'll talk a bit about the festival and maybe share some other interesting thoughts and ideas on related topics.
It occurs to me that creating a film festival is no less daunting than directing or producing a feature film. As Festival Manager of the DWIFF, I hope you'll come downtown and enjoy the activities, film screenings and parties. Then, take the time to envision a long credit roll of talented, creative and enthusiastic people who volunteered their time to make the DWIFF a success. That credit roll is your creative community.
(end of scene)
Oh, and, hey...The Detroit Windsor International Film Festival may be in its inaugural year, but we're packing a lot into this first event!
The first shot takes place a week before the actual festival, on Friday, June 20 at 7pm, with the "DWIFF 48 Hour Film Challenge".
At the College for Creative Studies Anderson Auditorium, around 20 registered film teams will compete for cash and prizes, honor and glory, by creating a short film in less than 48 hours.
Each team will be given certain criteria which must be included in their finished films. All entries will be judged and the top 3 teams will be eligible for the booty and acclaim.
More importantly, all completed entries will also be screened on Sunday, June 29th, at 2pm, in the CCS Anderson Auditorium, for friends, fans and family to enjoy. Come down and see what local filmmakers can come up with in record time. The cost of the screening is a measley $8, ($6 for seniors and students).
Also, believe it or not, there is still time to enter your own team! Click HERE.
Or you can show up at the Start and offer your services as an actor, makeup artist, writer or maybe an production assistant. Many teams are already formed, but you'll never get your big break if you never show up.
The DWIFF encourages the public (that'd be you) to come and cheer on these enthusiastic competitors as they write, cast, shoot, edit, score, publish and deliver their films within a very short 48 hours.
See you at the theater!