Revamped film incentives could boost Michigan economy

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Capital News Service
LANSING- Supporters of a proposed bill say the Michigan economy could see a much needed boost if lawmakers pass incentives designed to rekindle Michigan’s film industry.
The film incentive provides funds for production, personnel and crew costs on films shot in Michigan. Film productions can also receive funds for hiring Michigan workers and crews. Legislation has passed through the Senate and now sits in the House.
Ari Adler, spokesman for Speaker of the House, Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said, “The speaker is willing to move this bill. He believes that it is an improvement over the current system that we have.”
The Michigan film industry was booming a few years ago and gave away as much as $115 million in 2008 before Gov. Rick Snyder cancelled the previous incentive program.
“In 2008 we were facing a much different Michigan economy, by the end of 2008 we had two of the three Big Three in bankruptcy,” said Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R- Traverse City. “There were some big problems. Some of the incentives were going to things that I don’t think were originally intended.”
Schmidt said that inflated salaries contributed to the issue. Schmidt is also the committee chair on the Commerce Committee that listened to the bill on Dec 1. It was referred for a second reading.
The new system would be funded through Michigan taxpayer dollars and the fund is capped at $25 million. The Michigan Film Office will distribute funds in the forms of grants, while before they were tax break incentives.
“The legislation that was passed originally (was) well intentioned,” Schmidt said. “But now it is our chance to focus and make it tighter and get it to what the spirit of what the original legislation was, which is to create and to have a continuing movie industry here in Michigan.”
Investing in the Michigan film industry will create jobs and is seen as an investment by many in the state because the system will be more streamlined.
That investment will be noted not only by filmmakers and producers but by hotel chains, diners, dry cleaners and many other Michigan small businesses, said Jack Binder, president of Michigan Film Production, a source for film producers, production managers and crews.
Binder said that this new legislation is exciting and hopes it will put Michigan back where it used to be.
“The economic boost of the Michigan film incentive was felt across the state and throughout the world, and heard throughout the world, and shed enormous great light on Michigan,” Binder said of the previous film incentive program.
State competiveness is vital to attracting filmmakers to Michigan.
“It is critical from a filmmaker standpoint that they are competitive with other states and other nations,” Binder said. “And that the system is transparent and objective … if those things are in place, producers and studios are going to come and film here. If not, they will go elsewhere.”
One drawback is that Michigan will not provide incentives for commercial films produced in the state, something that is done in 10 other states. Some feel this will hurt the industry.
“For some reason, the powers that be don’t want to have commercials in our incentive program,” said Mark Adler, director of the Michigan Production Alliance, an organization that encourages a stable financial environment for Michigan film and video production companies, freelancers and support services.
“That is the bread and butter of the film industry in Michigan. It could do so much, in so many ways, to bolster the film industry and Michigan workers, even more so than feature films do,” he said.
Commercials are important, because they allow novices in the industry to get their first chance, Mark Adler said.
This legislation hopes to attract films back to Michigan and restore what was lost after 2008.
“It was ‘look at Michigan, look at how great a place it is to make a movie, look at how beautiful this place is, look at how productive it is, look at the great work coming out of here’,” Binder said. “The minute it disappeared, it went back to the same old story about Detroit.”
The incentive could also help strengthen an ailing economy.
“It is instant, it is immediate,” Binder said. “They put hundreds of people to work, it is across the board. Support services; from mom and pop pizza shops, to corporate hotels, restaurants, dry cleaners, camera vendors, lighting vendors, movies studios and just regular film crews.”
If the industry is not given a chance to flourish, then filmmakers will go elsewhere, Binder said. Not only will production be lost but the business and support services will suffer as well.
“It is a great place to shoot,” Binder said. ”We need to put that message back out to the world, Michigan is a great place to film.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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