Sunday, June 13, 2010

One Week in the Michigan Film Industry

Waterfront Film Crowd
Movie fans above stream out of a screening at Saguatuck's Waterfront Film Festival on Saturday. It was all I could do to get a couple of shots before I was trampled by the mass of people heading for the shops and restaurants downtown.

It truly is a shame that Michigan's film industry isn't making any money. Looking at three major stories on activity in this business reported in just the past week alone, it's shocking to think that, when you listen to Rep. Agema and certain Republicans running for office, no one but no one is turning a profit or creating jobs here. When you have permanent to temporary to tourism, all the major aspects of job creation and investment surrounding the industry covered in the news in the span of a few days - how is it possible that some still want to claim this industry hasn't been successful for the state?

OK. Imagine a world where none of this happened... because if certain people had their way, none of this would have happened.

The first story that grabbed notice was about permanent investment and infrastructure. The city of Allen Park recently stepped up recruitment and has landed some big names for its studio/entertainment campus in the 800,000 sq. ft. former Visteon complex; besides Unity Studios and the Lifton Institute for Media Skills already on grounds, in the past week it was announced that the site will feature new Michigan businesses, others that are moving in, some that are expanding, to new recruits from out-of-state. Nope, we're not making a dime on this...

Now, as the city has been forced to take over marketing of the site, the Allen Park Studio Center buildings are at 58 percent occupancy and enough leases have been signed for the city to be close to covering expenses.

Friday, the Center for Film Studies announced it will leave Madison Heights to lease 10,000 square feet on the campus. The move comes on the heels of an expansion of two tenants and the addition of a feature film in production on the campus.

In addition, another deal is on the table for 20,000 square feet for a set design company, and an offer was submitted Friday to the city for a North Carolina entrepreneur to buy a large part of the campus.

That North Carolina entrepreneur owns the property rights to over 25 movies, and recently joined with a Las Vegas based company to form Global Renaissance Funding L.L.C., - a venture that plans to raise between $20 million and $100 million to finance movies. In other words, he's got the money to back his projects, and he's put in an offer.

Besides the new business coming in, established business is expanding at the complex.

In addition to new tenants, current tenants are expanding. Roush Industries Inc. has grown from roughly 200,000 square feet to 315,000 square feet.

The Stautzenberger College originally took 20,000 square feet for its medical and massage training school, but plans to take another 20,000 square feet for a film and media training program, said controller Roger Kidd.

Friday, Center for Film Studies co-owner Mort Meisner said an additional entity he co-owns, Scenic Prop and Design, will soon move its manufacturing center from Fraser to the film campus, taking 20,000 square feet.

We have your permanent infrastructure setting up in the state, growing as the business grows, building on "each deal with another". They're creating the studios and making the props, they're training people for careers, and they're out scouting locations for films, spreading money and jobs all across Michigan...

The next chapter in the "X-Men" movie franchise is looking for places to film in Michigan. movie blogger Aaron Lafferty reports that production of "X-Men: First Class" is scouting for areas with a 1960s, South American or Central American island feel. Crews are looking for café and bar locations with an Argentinean feel and an art deco cafe or restaurant that overlooks a body of water. The movie also calls for a Miami-style harbor for yachts.

If you know any locations that would work, you are asked to call the West Michigan Film Office at (616) 245-2217.

Need to insert some digital palm trees in the final product, but other than that, there should be plenty of art deco 60s style locations in Michigan, simply because we haven't been able to afford new decor for the past forty or so years. Plenty of places where time has stood still. And when they find that one perfect spot, they are going to spend a lot of money in the area and support your local businesses, so if it's in your backyard, give 'em a call.

So, we go from news of permanent studio locations with investment, training and jobs, to news on shooting locations that will be a boon to local business, to last but certainly not least, we have the excitement that all the above brings: The producers, the crew members, the writers, the actors, their families and friends, joining with movie buffs from all over the country, coming to our state to add to our tourism coffers and celebrate the creation of art.

Saguatuck's Waterfront Film Festival attracted a huge crowd for three featured films that were shot in Michigan, one of those films drawing 700 fans Friday night, and similar numbers for the others were reported throughout the three-day weekend. Michigan cast and crew who worked on the films were part of the reason this festival generated so much excitement, but film fans from all over the country came for the show. Final numbers for attendance aren't in yet, but officials Saturday relayed that "long lines and several sellouts" were the norm for the 12th annual installment of the event. And, given that every available inch of parking was taken and they were shuttling people in on buses, you can bet there were some smiling business owners on the west coast this morning...

Up and down Saugatuck’s downtown streets, crowds of people donned event badges and shopping bags, often stopping to eyeball a festival schedule.

Peggy Boyce, who owns Local Artists Co-op Discovery Art Center at 347 Water St., credits the festival for jump-starting business early in the summer.

“Usually, the first weeks of June would be deader than a doornail around here,” she said.

Wait, wouldn't you like a tax cut, instead of all those customers?


Think before you vote. Or, just pretend that none of this happened, because as quickly as this industry is getting off the ground, it could go away again just that fast as well. But please, don't try to claim that were aren't making any money from the film business, because it's pretty easy to prove that we most certainly are. One week of watching the news does that trick just fine.