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.