Wednesday, July 06, 2011

"It was wonderful while it lasted"

As predicted back in April, the movie business has pretty much left the state. We could make a documentary. "Death of the Dream: How Rick Snyder and the Republican Legislature Killed an Entire Michigan Industry in a Few Short Months".

OK, that title is a bit long, but you get the idea.

More than four months after Gov. Rick Snyder announced plans to drastically scale back generous incentives for moviemaking, Michigan's once rapidly expanding film industry is shrinking. The number of productions approved for film tax credits is down 43% from 2010 levels. And those getting the incentives are small films, not big-budget movies like "Real Steel" and "Scream 4."

The Freep has more than a few examples of how people and businesses that were thriving a year ago are now back to grinding out a living.

Many actors and production crew workers are struggling to make a living. The impact is also being felt by hundreds of businesses that had benefited from more than $649 million in spending by filmmakers over the last three years.

Detroit is really feeling it. Last year, the city was alive with film activity.

Today, just one year later, the excitement has died. Trucks no longer line the sides of many streets. And these days, star sightings at restaurants and hotels are rare.

"The difference is pretty amazing," said Bill Aprill, director of sales and marketing at the Doubletree Guest Suites on West Lafayette. "This summer is going to be tough" for many downtown businesses.

Thousands of jobs have been lost. Nearly 4,000 temporary production jobs gone, and we are losing permanent jobs as well, as the support structure that had been building around the industry is forced to lay off employees.

Chow Catering, which opened a commissary in Madison Heights, had to lay off some of the 25 workers it had hired, co-owner Dan Gearig said. It was going to buy at least another $250,000 in equipment but nixed those plans after the cap went into effect. The company is looking at doing more business outside Michigan.

The state's small movie production studios have also been hurt. Production has stopped at Maxsar Digital Studios in Livonia, which laid off its 50 employees. In Manistee, 10 West Studios lost a significant amount of revenue when two movies canceled plans to film there this year.

Talented people are leaving the state.

The reduced activity has resulted in a stream of production crew workers, actors and others leaving the state for jobs in Ohio, Louisiana and California.

Filmmaking has dried up on the west side of Michigan, which attracted three movies in June 2010. And enrollment at the Center for Film Studies in Madison Heights has dropped so much that the school is looking at expanding to states where the film business is thriving.

"We can't afford it!" comes the cry from the Snyder administration, after they raised taxes on the working class and seniors and gave it away to their rich friends with no promise of jobs in return. Funny how other states that are in the same financial predicament as we are have found a way to make it work. And they are more than happy to take the business. You could say they used "relentless positive action" to take our jobs and our people, but then again, we are the ones who showed the industry the door in the first place.

Make sure this goes on Snyder's list of accomplishments. And while there has been an admission from Republicans that we are no longer competitive and they plan on "redrafting" the program, they shouldn't receive any credit if they somehow manage to revive it. You don't get to kill something off and then play the hero when you bring it back from the dead.

We may live on a planet of short attention spans, but some of us will remember what happened. And hopefully those people will get out and vote next time around.