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Is Hollywood Buzzing About Michigan?

by Lisa Diggs on Jun 03rd 2010

Michigan has the most aggressive tax incentives for the film and television industry in the nation.  Nearly everyone agrees; however, that it is important to build an infrastructure for that industry that eventually leads to the demise of the incentives themselves.  If we acheived that, we would find ourselves truly being the new Hollywood, or at least the Hollywood of the Midwest.  That leads me to wonder, what does the real Hollywood community think about our chances?

As luck would have it, I'm in Los Angeles now with an opportunity to pose that vary question. 

After a myriad of conversations with industry insiders here, the first thing I can say for certain is that people are keenly aware of the potential and/or potential threat that states like Michigan present.  That should come as no surprise though.  In 2007, pre-incentive package, 3 films were produced predominantly in Michigan.  By the post-incentive era of 2008, that number reportedly jumped to 28, including Clint Eastwood's high profile project, Gran Torino.  By 2009 it was 39, including Best Picture Oscar nominee Up In the Air.  It should come as no surprise then that people within the entertainment industry have taken notice.

I mean, pair that with the financial struggles of the industry itself and they'd be foolish not to be looking at alternative places to film.  

That is exactly the attitude and interest level I have found in California this week.  From actors to casting directors to public relations execs to producers, everyone knows Michigan has become a hot spot.  Where they seem to disagree is when it comes to how hot and for how long.  Then again, so do we.

One PR rep said she thinks its high time California provides some incentives or their signature industry could really be in danger.  Then a casting director chimed in and said they won't.  In her opinion they are not worried because they have television.  That is certainly true, right now, but for how long?  I asked her if she really believed they should be secure in that and she said no.  She does believe the threat, even to television, is real, whether it comes from our state or not. 

Right now, it's clear that Michigan has been far more successful in luring film projects than television.  HBO's show Hung and the upcoming ABC series Detroit 187 are both set in our city so there are at least externals and location shots, but that is all.  Motor City Motors shoots here though as does The Wannabes.  Can that trend continue?

It seems to me that it will, so long as studios are actually built in Michigan.  That is one piece of the puzzle that seems to surprise and ignite some genuine concern among the Californians, though they are confident that the industry infrastructure and beautiful weather will keep people wanting/needing to live and work in LA.  I suspect, to a certain degree that will always be true.  However, if you stack the cost of living and a nice big house on a lake up against a smaller, and crazily expensive home in Malibu, weather may indeed not be enough.   

Then it becomes all about whether or not we can get the job done.  I truly believe we can if permanent investments like Unity Studios, Motown Motion Picture Studios, and 10 West Studios are completed.  We have an immense pool of talented, hard-working people who are looking for a new opportunity.  Filmmakers like Eastwood will continue to bring their own crews with them, but smaller films will hire local talent.  That experience will contribute to the growth of the industry as well.  Eventually, if we stay the course I believe we can create a permanent industry that not only helps diversify our economy, but that repeatedly brings powerful people to our state who can help us transform the image. 

That is a cool biproduct of attracting this particular industry that should not be overlooked.  It's also one of the great reasons to support Michael Moore's efforts in establishing the Traverse City Film Festival.  It is impossible to visit that area and not be astounded by the natural beauty.  Add to that, a little wine tasting and location scouting, and you have a place to which people long to return, cameras in tow. 

All in all, Hollywood is an undeniable icon for entertainment.  They are certainly not in danger of losing the industry in its entirety, any more than we are in danger of losing the automotive industry in its entirety. 

They definitely do have competition though, and for those who think a midwestern state cannot be a player in the entertainment industry, we need only to think Motown Records and smile.     


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