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.