Monday, April 07, 2008

Act Naturally

The working title? "Legislature Does Good: Part II". The film legislation will be signed today, and already there is massive interest around the country and the world in bringing movie production to Michigan. From the LA Times-

Michigan, home of the automotive industry, is raising the stakes in the nationwide competition for Hollywood's lucrative film jobs.

In what it bills as the most generous film incentives program in the country, the Great Lake State is announcing today that it will begin offering a 40% rebate on production spending to filmmakers, as well as tax credits for companies that invest in new studios.

According to a story in the Detroit News, the Michigan Film Office is reviewing 78 scripts as of last week.

By Thursday, the state's film office was reviewing 78 scripts for potential films to be shot in Michigan. There are 15 films with $10 million-plus production budgets considering shooting in Detroit once the new legislation is in place, said Al Fields, the city's deputy chief operating officer and head of the Detroit Film Office.

Instant jobs. Instant money into the Michigan economy. Already there are stories coming out of films scouting locations; one is looking at filming at the now-closed Jackson prison, another is coming to Ann Arbor- the movie "Youth in Revolt" is now hiring.

The average motion picture requires spending of about $175,000 a day, Lockwood said. For the movie "Semi Pro," parts of which were filmed in Flint and Detroit, producers hired more than 100 crew members and more than 300 extras.

Producers are "accepting resumes for all crew positions," according to the Film Office Web site, and resumes can be sent to

So, they are coming, they are coming with hordes of cash and jobs. Sounds like a plan, right? Well…

Evey good story needs conflict and drama and villians - and who better to play that part than... (cue scary music)... Nancy Cassis, the only legislator to vote against this package, and the Mackinac Center, who argues that all business should get generous tax breaks and we need to downsize government. As usual. Yawn. And for a touch of comedy, and Janet Lockwood of the Film Office provides this laugh out-loud line...

“Cassis (Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi) opposed the legislation on a personal stand. She doesn’t support corporate welfare. She thinks we shouldn’t single out any one industry. She feels it’s inappropriate, and I respect her opinion,” Lockwood said. “We’ve had a great response from LA, Toronto, and even London. I’m grateful to the Legislature and the governor for getting it together.”

Did Nancy or the Mac Center have any ideas for what industry they could lure here and provide instant jobs and an infusion of big cash into the Michigan economy? No? Not surprising. They never do.

For an example of how much money this can pump into the state, look back to 2001 when a week’s worth of filming of a major motion picture had a great impact along the lakeshore....

The movie "Road to Perdition" was shooting in Chicago. They looked in Illinois for a suitable lakefront location for the climatic scene that takes place in a beach house, and when they couldn't find one there, they came to Saugatuck - and brought money and jobs with them. When all was said and done, one week generated nearly $1 million dollars for the West Michigan economy.

"They are hiring Michigan people, staying in Michigan hotels, eating Michigan food and hiring Michigan police," said Janet Lockwood, director of the Michigan Film Office in Lansing, who greased the skids for filmmakers to get local and state permits.

"All those salaries are Michigan people who pay taxes."

Quite a bit went into making a grand total of 10 minutes of film time for Michigan. Police were hired for security...

For instance, Ottawa County sheriff's deputies have worked overtime to police the dunes area on foot, horseback and boat. The Sheriff's Department will charge DreamWorks about $18,000.

They paid to close a few roads...

The Road Commission got paid, too: $1,500 to close two gravel roads for filming -- 136th Avenue south of M-45, and Winans Street from 136th to 144th avenues.(GR Press, June 13, 2001)

And along that road, they paid a farmer to leave his hay standing...

Partly for that reason, farmer Roger Feikema is in no hurry to view the movie -- which includes plenty of violent gunplay and some coarse language -- even though he was paid $3,000 by the movie company to delay harvesting his hay field on 108th Avenue in Olive Township.

Mendes used the hay field as a backdrop for a scene in which Hanks and Hoechlin are driving down a gravel road to Perdition, a fictional lakeshore community.

Although crews began setting up for the shoot one day and spent more than four hours the next filming it, the scene lasts less than 15 seconds in the final version of "Road to Perdition."

They built the beach house, recreating the feel of the 1930s with weeks of detail work, and then they tore it down...

Weaver is far more interested in seeing another star on the big screen: his paint job.

Movie-goers paying close attention during the film's dramatic climax will have exactly 4 minutes and 15 seconds to scrutinize the job completed by Weaver and three other painters from the local crew that helped adorn the Depression-era beach house in "Road to Perdition."

That's how long the interior scene featuring Hanks lasts, though it required more than six weeks of painstaking, detail-oriented work to create.

"It's gonna be neat. I'll probably have to stuff a sock in my mouth to keep from saying, 'There's the house I did,' " said Weaver, whose paint crew joined a group of more than 10 West Michigan carpenters from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 26 in assembling the temporary house that was razed soon after filming wrapped up last June.

And all those people had to eat and stay somewhere; lots of dollars for local business serving the film crew- and serving all the tourists who came to catch a glimpse of Tom Hanks on the beach. Crowds lined up for miles on local roads, and the local media ran stories every day on the progress of the filming.

The movie was good for business last summer at Spectators Bar & Grill in Saugatuck, too, with crew members who worked on the nearby set of an old motel regularly eating lunch at the watering hole and stopping in for drinks. And owner Sherry White got plenty of media attention, with radio stations and reporters calling in for movie tidbits. (GR Press, July 11, 2002)

So, one week of filming added up to $1 million to the local economy, not to mention the jobs created, the media buzz and interest that lasted for well over a year.

This is going to be huge. With money/credit tightening in this country, there will be even more incentive to find savings for film makers, and Michigan is going to be in the right place at the right time. The hand-wringing over the tax credits will subside when we see how much this generates for the economy - money, jobs, publicity for tourism, larger than life media coverage throughout.

There might even be a part for Nancy someday…