Sunday, March 03, 2013



You can tell which movies are getting a major studio push by the advertising they run throughout the Bay area. Right now it's Michigan's "Oz the Great and Powerful" that is gracing the sides of buses and the banners on BART and the electronic billboards in the middle of SF's Westfield Centre, a nine-floor "upscale" shopping mall in the heart of trendy Union Square.

Enjoy the attention while it lasts. Biggest Michigan-made film ever, a very high-profile example of the potential that was lost with the election of 2010. While there may be a handful of low-budget projects still shooting in the state, the chances of seeing something like this again are slim to none unless leadership decides to get back in the game - and don't hold your breath on that one.

Now, you can argue the philosophy behind tax credits until the cows come home. Prominent economists left and right go back and forth; the CBPP takes a negative view on film subsidies. And let's face it, it is a form of corporate welfare - BUT - that is the way the game is played as of now. Michigan could have chosen to stay competitive with red-state film magnets like Louisiana and Georgia and kept an adequate level of business flowing. A percentage would have made sense; a cap does not.

Instead, Republicans cut the industry off at the knees, and stuck the taxpayers with the bills from a major studio built by insanely wealthy men at your expense. Michigan get to keep the building, and other states will get the jobs and the glory.

It didn't have to be like that.

"Oz the Great and Powerful' was shot on the seven sound stages of the now-named Michigan Motion Picture Studios in Pontiac. For months, it kept the state-of-the-art facility humming with activity.

"There were days in the cafeteria where they served 2,000 people breakfast and 2,000 people lunch, with the extras and the grips and everybody that was working on this film," said Linden Nelson of Michigan Motion Picture Studios.


Nelson said "Oz" provided the jobs that the incentives sought and wound up using talent from every area code in Michigan. "They were drawing people from all over the state," he said.

Nelson also said "Oz" was the sort of project that fought the brain drain that draws aspiring young people to Los Angeles, New York and other hubs of creative industries.

"This is what this industry was supposed to bring to Michigan," he said of the overall impact of "Oz."

Instead, the citizens get to pay for #164 on Forbes billionaire list Alfred Taubman and perennial Tea Party crank John Rakolta's default, and all the creative folks took their armful of studio money and jobs elsewhere.

Ah well. Can't say you weren't warned.

I'm looking forward to seeing this at my local art-deco theater on the Lake, and I'll be sure to stay through the credits for old-times' sake. Here's to what might have been.