Friday, April 01, 2011

Add the Loss of Michigan's Film Industry to Snyder's List of "Accomplishments"

Filming the movie "Touchback" in Coopersville in 2010

That's a wrap.

There have been some minor projects already approved under the proposed cap of $25 million a year for Michigan's film incentives, but the total damage done has been far, far greater - and it's growing every day. Since Snyder's announcement, thousands of jobs and millions of dollars have been lost for our state, and the DNews was kind enough to add some of it up for us this morning when the news came that yet another major project has decided to go elsewhere.

Michigan's largest film incentive application of the year, in which producers wanted to spend $58.2 million in the state and hire 2,256 Michiganians, is no longer under consideration because producers are looking at other states, a Michigan Film Office official said Thursday.

The film office received DW Studio Productions LLC's "Untitled Doug Liman Project" application on Feb. 9, a little over a week before Gov. Rick Snyder announced his proposal to cap Michigan's generous and uncapped film incentives at $25 million each for fiscal 2012 and 2013. Liman, a Hollywood director, has directed the blockbuster "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" as well as "Go" and "Swingers."

The Film Office, trying to put on a brave face in what must be a devastating time for them, is politely saying that the project left - but Paramount is claiming the project was denied. This is a $58 million dollar movie that would have sought $22.9 million in credits, which would have been nearly the entire budget for the year. Big productions just will not happen under Snyder's proposal, and this is only the latest project to join the exodus of blockbusters leaving the state.

The Liman movie development follows reports that "Freelancers" and Marvel Studios' "The Avengers" abandoned plans to shoot in Michigan because of the proposed cap and uncertainty over the state film incentive program. Both projects applied for Michigan incentives, but chose other states for filming.

"It's official. It's gone," Rick Hert, executive director of the West Michigan Film Office, said of "Freelancers," adding producers opted to shoot the film in Louisiana.

Other blockbuster projects to hit the chopping block: On hold is "Oz: The Great and Powerful," a $105 million-budgeted prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" starring James Franco, which was considering filming at Pontiac’s Raleigh Studios, is now looking at shooting in California. And the "Batman" sequel "The Dark Knight Rises", another big name film with thousands of jobs and millions of dollars attached to it, has already left.

There is a bit more detail behind the story of the loss of "Freelancers", and it spells out in-depth the domino effect of consequences for production companies and workers across the state under Snyder's cap. "Freelancers" would have been the latest project from 50 Cent and LA producer Randall Emmett, and had planned to hire 105 crew members and 275 extras. The duo had shot a total of four films in Grand Rapids already under the Cheetah Vision Films imprint, including "Setup" with Bruce Willis that will be released later this year. Cheetah has signed a $200 million deal with film distributor Lionsgate to produce 10 films in total - guaranteed work that will follow 50 Cent and his film company. So, not only do we lose "Freelancers" (which recently signed Robert DeNiro and Forrest Whitaker to star) and its hundreds of jobs, chances are we are going to lose those other films to Louisiana as well.

With the films goes the young creative talent that Snyder supposedly wants to retain here in Michigan.

Some of the people employed in the business are migrating along with the film productions, according to Grand Rapids’ Tony Nawrocki, who has worked as a locations production assistant for seven feature films — including “Setup” and “30 Minutes or Less,” shot locally with star Jesse Eisenberg — and had a foot in the door for a job working on “Freelancers.”

"Some of my friends have already moved out to Louisiana," said Nawrocki, 24, who studied film production at Columbia College in Chicago. “I know one person who moved there to establish residency specifically so he can work on that film (‘Freelancers’).”

Nawrocki added he’s likely to move out of the state for work soon.

"As soon as I get my bag packed and get some more cash together, I’m gone," he said. “I understand that (Snyder) is cutting everything. But if he cuts farm subsidies, farmers aren’t going to uproot their blueberry bushes and move to Louisiana. This business is mobile.”

Indeed it is, and so are the young people who work in the industry. A report out of Flint soon after Snyder's announcement saw the same story play out; the end of negotiations on a multi-million dollar Martin Lawrence film project for Lyon Productions, and workers on a current project packed their bags. "People have been flying away in droves" since Snyder's announcement, says owner Brad Leo Lyon.

About 10 people have left an almost 50 person crew for Lyon’s upcoming film “Little Creeps,” which will be filmed in the Flint area. The people who left are searching for work in states with better film incentives, he said.

For every project, there are upwards of hundreds of jobs attached, either from direct work on the film, to the people who are supplying props, food, locations, drivers, security, hotel rooms for crew - any and all various aspects of support for the industry that added a boost to local economies. Gone. Keep that mind for the following list of other projects that have been denied:

"Admissions," a film that is scheduled to star Meg Ryan and Kevin Bacon and planned to spend $2.1 million in Michigan and hire 248 Michigan residents.

"Undaunted Courage," a television miniseries that wanted to spend $43.7 million here and hire 1,122 residents.

"Piranha Double D," a film that planned to spend $9.4 million and hire 518 residents.

"Saralee SMART/Fundmanager system," an interactive website that wanted to spend $50,000 here.

No word yet on the fate of the TV series "Detroit 1-8-7", but a recent report in Fortune magazine has Gary French, senior vice president for production at ABC Studios, saying the series will leave if the cap remains and they have to go through appropriations with the legislature every year. At this point, it will be a miracle if the show stays.

If the loss of young creative talent, thousands of jobs, and millions of dollars isn't enough, consider that we may start losing the infrastructure if studios and other production companies pack up and leave. Some are already considering it.

Manistee’s 10 West Studios has felt the impact of Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts. Since Snyder announced earlier this year that he wants to eliminate Michigan’s film incentive, 10 West has already lost two potential film deals. Its owners are considering moving their operation back to California.

And last, but certainly not least, is the embarrassment this is causing the state. Besides all the bad press and disappointment of people in the film industry as they drop us from consideration for projects, Ohio Governor John Kasich has made sure to rub it in our face on more than one occasion. Kasich boasted of stealing the "Avengers" project from us in his State of the State Address...

"You've got to have people that can talk the talk and then move quickly," he said. He credited Ohio's speed with the ability to attract the Avengers film when "Michigan dropped the ball."

... and he also took a shot at us in the press when he originally announced that the film would be shooting in Cleveland, stating, "We won another one from Michigan." (Had something like this happened under Governor Granholm, we never would have heard the end of it from the Republican Party. And why the MDP didn't include it in the Snyder "accomplishment" video, the world will never know.)

Mitch Albom and other film professionals have presented an alternative incentive plan to the Legislature in hopes of keeping the industry here, but as the stories above spell out, we have already lost a lot of business. Given the pace of the budget progress, we will continue to lose more as this drags out. However, as the kid said, the industry is mobile - and it could be back in the blink of an eye if changes are made. We may be able to keep the studios that are currently sitting on the fence. It all depends on whether or not Snyder is going to listen to reason and the studies and evidence presented that this business is worth the effort, or if he is going to continue to choose to be stubborn.

If he chooses the later, then he gets the legacy of destroying what was a very promising industry for this state. That will be sure to make someone's highlight reel in the future, but it certainly won't be seen as a positive accomplishment.

UPDATE 4/2: The DNews runs another story with the grand totals on this year's applications. Check out these numbers:
Forty-three projects seeking Michigan film industry tax credits this year face stiff competition.

Producers of the projects, which include movies, television shows, video games and music videos, are seeking a combined $129.3 million in incentives — seven times the $17.9 million the Michigan Film Office says it has left to award.

The production teams would spend $324 million in the state, and hire 14,562 people, including film extras, according to applications filed with the film office and obtained by The Detroit News under the Freedom of Information Act.

So, we would profit roughly $195 million in spending and create over 14,500 jobs, the pay from which would also be put right back into our state economy.

Hmmmm. Can we starting calling him "job killer" yet?