Blog: Michelle Spranger

Michelle Spranger is a lifelong resident of Oakland County and currently works as a freelance producer and writer for television, video and special events with more than 15 years of experience.

When Michelle is not working, she keeps busy by selling stuff on eBay, following NASCAR, and taking road trips with her husband and dogs in their 40-foot diesel pusher.

Michelle will blog about what Michigan needs to do to keep people like her from moving away.


Michelle Spranger - Most Recent Posts:

Post No 4: Hollywood, Michigan

My husband has been fortunate to benefit from Michigan's new film incentive program. In the spring he worked with Sigourney Weaver on a TV movie for the Lifetime channel entitled "Prayers for Bobby". For the past five weeks, he’s been working with Clint Eastwood on "Gran Torino". Yes, that Clint Eastwood.

From what we've seen so far, the incentive program is pumping a lot of money into Michigan’s fragile economy. Not only are individual cities benefiting from the influx of out-of-town crews spending money on hotels, entertainment and shopping, but the incentive program is also helping to keep many skilled workers from leaving the film industry and the state altogether.

Before the incentive program passed in April 2008, Michigan's film industry looked pretty bleak. For years, the majority of the local film and video production has been tied into the auto industry with commercials, training videos, and corporate communications. Currently with the big three facing serious trouble and Volkswagen/Audi pulling up stakes to move to Virginia in June, southeast Michigan has lost many talented filmmakers during these tough times.

The details of the program are a bit murky to me and I think the rules have already been amended several times, but it goes something like this… If a production company spends at least $50,000 in the state of Michigan, they are eligible to receive a 40% tax credit from the state. If the production shoots in one of Michigan’s "core communities", they can receive an extra 2% credit. There are several hoops to jump through, but the benefits are tremendous for the production companies. 

Finally Michigan realized the need to diversify and stop relying on the auto industry. For years, Michigan has been losing film productions to other areas, like Toronto and North Carolina, due to aggressive incentive programs. We now have an opportunity to show off the talents of our filmmakers and regain some stability in the film community.

However, the program is barely a few months old and there is already talk from Lansing of cutting the program. Rumor has it that Michigan lawmakers are concerned that too much money is being spent for a short-term gain. What they haven't taken into account are the long-term gains with thousands of Michigan workers continuing to pay their mortgages, feed their families, pay their taxes and stay in the state.

The incentive program also offers a credit for training. Realistically, southeast Michigan has enough union workers to crew two movies at a time. Beyond that, we're pulling crews that have little or no film experience. If we are really serious about making this program work, we need to train more workers and allow them to get them into the unions. 

We are also in dire need of sound stages. Filming in the spring and summer in Michigan has been great so for, but with the colder weather right around the corner, those L.A. crews aren’t going to want to shoot in the snow. (Unless, of course, the shot calls for it.)

With nearly 20 films slated to film in Michigan in the upcoming months, it would be a shame to cut the program short before it has had a chance to blossom.

Post No 3: Dog Parks

On a recommendation from my sister, I took my dogs to Orion Oaks Dog Park in Lake Orion and the girls had a blast. This was Bristol’s first time swimming and it may be her last; she looked terrified after she resurfaced from her swan dive off the Dog Dock. Diesel is an old pro and loves to swim. 

Orion Oaks Dog Park also offers hiking trails, a sandy area where the dogs can dig, and amenities for the people, such as clean bathrooms with running water and a large canopy with picnic tables. I really liked this park because it was entirely fenced and offered a variety of terrain. 

A day pass for residents for Oakland County Parks is $7. I decided not to purchase the annual pass for $30 because it took me an hour to get there and I wasn’t sure how often I would take advantage of it.

If I had known the next day we would visit another Oakland County Park, Lyon Oaks Dog Park in Wixom, I may have purchased the annual pass. Oh well. 

Lyon Oaks was a little boring in comparison to Orion Oaks. It was just a huge fenced field with picnic tables and a couple shaded areas with picnic tables where the people can hang out. And they only had outhouses. On this particular day, the number of small dogs outnumbered the big dogs and they mostly hung out in the small dog area. Of course, my girls had to wander into the small dog area to say hello. Luckily no one seemed to mind. It was actually very cute to see my Rottweilers playing with a Min Pin because they all have similar markings. 

After reading one of the comments to my first post, I decided to get off my butt and contact the city of Southfield to find out how we could get our own dog park. I emailed the Director of Parks and Recreation, Bill Waterhouse, to let him know that my neighbors and I would like to see a dog park in the city.

I was very impressed to receive a quick reply from Mr. Waterhouse. He informed me that Southfield Parks & Rec have been looking into it and are carefully considering several locations. He mentioned they have visited other dog parks to see how they were developed and how they have fared over time. He also invited me to send him my suggestions of possible locations or any other input I might have.

Since receiving Mr. Waterhouse’s “invitation” to submit my ideas, I checked out a couple places in the city for myself and realized it’s not a very easy task. It seems like Southfield has either sold all of its open spaces to office buildings or they’ve put in a soccer field. 

I know soccer is very popular, but I’ve never actually seen anyone play soccer on any of these fields. Maybe one of the fields could be sacrificed for us doggy parents who need a safe place for our furry “children” to play, socialize and get some exercise.

Or maybe one of the office buildings would like to be a good corporate citizen and donate some of their land to open a dog park. It’s probably a long shot, but it’s worth a shot.

Post No 2: A House In Ferndale

I have been looking into starting a new business venture: landlord. For years I have been thinking about buying a rental property, then selling it a few years down the road and making big bucks. One article I read a long time ago said if you buy one house every year for seven years, then sell one house every year, after 14 years you’d be rich! I’m not 100% sure how the math works on that, but the concept stuck with me.

With the Michigan real estate market being what it is today, now seems to be the perfect time to pick up some bargains. At first I limited my search to Southfield near where I live. I know the area very well; I walk the dogs all over our little corner of Southfield every day. I was shocked to find homes listed for under $30,000. My car almost costs that much. Granted, most in this price range have been severely neglected. Others are good homes, maybe need some updating, and they go quickly. 

I’ve now widened the search to include Ferndale. In general, the Ferndale homes in this price range have a little less square footage and smaller lots than Southfield, but Ferndale has so much going for it that Southfield doesn’t. A vibrant downtown. Dog parks. Lower taxes. Lower crime.

Don’t get me wrong. Southfield has a lot going for it and you get a lot of house for the money. It’s just a little tougher sell than Ferndale, especially for those not familiar with the city.

As others have been taking advantage of the soft real estate market, it’s interesting to see all the construction going on in the areas where I’ve been looking. Little by little, the neighborhoods are getting spruced up and filled with people. 

Since I began the search a couple weeks ago, I’ve looked at more than 20 houses and walked through eight. They’ve all had issues, including strange floor plans, poor foundation, holes in the roof, rotting wood, and my favorite…mold. I’m willing and able to do some work (my husband and my dad are very handy), but from everything I’ve heard, mold is a four-letter word I should stay away from.

I’ve also learned that before a home goes into foreclosure, due to certain Michigan laws, sometimes the mortgage company has to wait six months before they can put it up for sale. In that time span, the utilities are usually shut off, which in the winter, means bursting water pipes. I’ve looked at a couple houses that have been on the market since winter and all of them have water damage and mold, especially in the basement or crawl space.

I’m hesitant to buy a house with a basement, anyway. The house where I grew up in Oak Park had a basement that constantly flooded. I lost all of my high school yearbooks and other memorabilia to water damage. Besides, for many the basement is a place to store the junk you can’t bring yourself to get rid of. 

I’m waiting to hear from the real estate agent regarding a Ferndale ranch I wanted to look at the other night but the lockbox was missing, so we couldn’t get in. From looking at the outside, I already know the house needs some work (roof and siding, for sure), but it looks like it could be a really cute house one day.

Post No 1: The Place For Me

For as long as I can remember, I always thought I’d move away from Michigan. I’ve lived in metro-Detroit all my life and I’ve always wanted to move somewhere warmer. 

When one of my younger sisters, Jennifer, moved to Delaware, then to Sonoma Valley, then to Raleigh-Durham, I was so jealous. I always thought I’d be the one to move first and here she was, crisscrossing the country. And when another sister, Stephanie, moved to L.A., I was happy for her, but I was pissed. I wanted it to be me. 

Usually the urge to bail hits me in late fall when everything turns brown and the air gets a bit cooler. I don’t understand why anyone likes the fall; everything is dying! And don’t get me started on the Michigan winters. I remember one winter where we had 30 days in a row of no sun. Just gray skies for a month!

So why do I stay? Well, most of my family still lives here. I have built a successful career. My husband and I own a nice home on a quiet street with decent neighbors in Southfield. We hang with a nice circle of friends. Michigan summers are awesome. Fear.

I’ve visited almost every state in the U.S., either for vacation or work, yet I haven’t found a place that feels quite right. I’ve also traveled to the Caribbean, Europe, Canada, Mexico, Central America, but none of those felt right either. At least not enough to pack up and go permanently.

My ideal city would have to meet the following criteria…

  1. Warm climate with a lot of sunny days. 70s-80s all year round.
  2. Dog friendly. I’d like to live in a city with dog parks and safe areas to walk, along with shops and restaurants that allow (and encourage) you to bring your dogs.
  3. Affordable neighborhoods where the houses aren’t jammed next to each other. I grew up in Oak Park where only the driveway separated our house from the neighbors. If I can hear my neighbor start his car in the morning, that’s too close.
  4. Plenty of work. Although much of my work is done out of state, most of the production companies and marketing agencies that hire me are located in Michigan. If I were to move, I would probably lose about 75% of my business.
  5. With all the traveling I do, I’d prefer to be within an hour’s drive from a major airport. Some of my coworkers live in the northern suburbs and rave about flying out of Flint. They usually have to connect through DTW before arriving at their destination, but I hate connections.
  6. Wide variety of concert venues. I enjoy watching live music, from Kid Rock to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Hmm…I wonder if this place exists.