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Lights, Camera, Development!

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Granholm signed a film incentive bill yesterday which will supposedly create a brand spankin' new "economic sector" for Michigan. There were some concerns raised by already established Michigan businesses about the need for incentives to keep their already opened doors open, but there seemed to be a lot of optimism for this bill. Personally, I have a few pros and cons:


1. It would help the already established local film industries (I'm assuming). I can see Saugatuck's film festival growing by leaps and bounds.

2. It's more exposure for Michigan.

3. Job and development growth.

4. Adding diversity to Michigan's economy.


1. Too much exposure (8 Mile and Bowling for Columbine did wonders for Dtown and Flint).

2. It might have been a waste of legislators time when they should have been helping out the local businesses.

3. Environmentally damaging in rural areas (UP in particular)

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People are definitely taking advantage already... I was at this concert in Grand Rapids while they were shooting the music video and it was definitely a sweet experience!

GRAND RAPIDS -- Downtown Grand Rapids has set the scene for one of America's hottest songs.

Nashville, Tenn., country band The Lost Trailers spent the past two days in Grand Rapids filming a music video for "Holler Back," a tune that currently holds a spot on the Billboard Country music charts.

"Everything has been great here so far. With the new film and cinema thing (state incentives for filmmakers), it can make budgets go a lot further," said head producer Randy Brewer.

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Proposal May Deliver Movie Magic to City

Jeremy W. Steele • Lansing State Journal • June 3, 2008 • From Lansing State Journal

Lansing may be ready for its Hollywood close-up.

And to make sure the capital city gets its take, a local developer and film production firm want to build a 71,000-square-foot studio and production facility downtown.

A team led by East Lansing's Gillespie Group and Lansing-based Ahptic Film & Digital are set to announce plans today for City Center Studios, which would have twin 24,000-square-foot soundstages large enough to handle a blockbuster.

It would likely be late 2009 before the studios could open, and no movie deals are yet in the works.


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I posted this in the Grand Rapids thread and figured it ought to appear here as well.


Michigan Filmmakers are eligible for all incentives, no exceptions. However, "Infrastructure" is interpreted to mean "bricks and mortar" i.e. buildings, not equipment. Therefore, applications for incentive support to purchase/upgrade to (for example) 3D post-production, a new crane, camera lenses, etc. will be denied at this time.

Furthermore, the Michigan Treasury has decided that commercials do not qualify for the incentives.


Exactly. In its current interpretation, there is nothing in the law that encourages Michigan residents to invest in the equipment that is necessary to support significant growth in Michigan film making. According to the Commerce Committee, equipment does NOT at this time qualify for the incentive. Which is why the proposed studio facility in Lansing (the bldg shell itself) at the top of this thread could get built by someone who is crazy enough to take the risk (as might the studio project just announced in Muskegon on June 12), but it is very unlikely either of these facilities will ever get filled with all the equipment that is actually required to light, shoot, process, edit and ultimately produce a film. I can assure you that all this equipment is way more expensive than the building - and that without equipment, these facilities are doomed from the start. As a result, this tax legislation is totally ineffective in its current state. And... the malaise this "incentive package" has now descended into is the direct result of star-struck, misinformed legislators trying to quick-fix a symptom instead of pursuing a more comprehensive treatment that might truly cure the ailment that lies behind those symptoms.

It is difficult to be brief on this topic but here is the simple truth on this issue: for Michigan to attract "feature" film production in any significant volume it MUST have a healthy, vibrant, "commercial" (non feature film) production environment in place that is capable of supporting the additional (albeit sporadic) volume of work "features" could bring to Michigan over the long term. As stated above, this law does very little if anything to help existing IN-STATE commercial film makers expand their technical capabilities... and its current interpretation specifically excludes the non-feature "commercial" production projects that these enterprises need and count on to succeed and grow. This is why this legislation is woefully misdirected.

Allow me to explain. Even though "features" receive a lot of media attention and boast of "big budgets", the simple truth is that they collectively represent only about 15 percent of the total money spent on film making in the US each year. The remaining 85 percent of that money is spent on commercial, corporate and advertising production. While it is exciting to read headlines about a "feature" or famous actor coming to Michigan, the fact is that a feature shoot rarely lasts longer than a few short weeks. The crew and equipment necessary to support "big features" MUST have a way to make a living the remaining 40-48 weeks each year. Commercial (non feature film) production is how that happens. It is simply impossible for any of this infrastructure to survive on feature films alone. Every legitimate film making professional and production facility operator in this state who has managed to survive this economic downturn will tell you this.

This "incentive package" is basically a cart before the horse scenario. As proof: I am now receiving calls from a growing number out of state film makers who mostly complain about the lack of abundant studios, production facilities and production equipment and the seeming absence of abundant production crew here in Michigan. I am forced to tell them that this Michigan "incentive package" has created absolutely no incentive for me or my peers to invest our hard earned money in major expansions of our existing production capabilities - and that we, as seasoned industry professionals and responsible business owners, cannot jeopardize the long term survival of our businesses on the "promise" of a few weeks worth of work each year from a few out of state "features" - especially in a period of serious economic instability and tight credit. When I explain this to these callers, most are very quick to acknowledge that Michigan's incentive package is indeed flawed. The few that don't understand this dilemma go on to say other things that quickly reveal their desire to "come here - make a fast buck at the expense of someone else - and get out quickly".

For the sake of brevity, I'll stop my comments short and offer a few alternative thoughts on how film making might be better served by legislative action. One significant way would be to find ways to diminish the burden of the MBT, property taxes (on equipment), payroll taxes, work comp, health care and all other often unreasonable small-to-medium sized business expenses that challenge existing IN STATE film production companies. Quite simply, tax laws are written in this state to mostly serve manufacturing style businesses and the other industries that support manufacturing. The unique challenges faced by service based businesses, especially the creative based industries, have been ignored for far too long. Fix these issues and creative professionals might actually have a fighting chance in this economy - and might even find themselves able to invest and grow their businesses as a result.

And doing something to help all the small to medium sized production companies in our state will help the even greater number of individual, sole-proprietor, "freelance" professionals who serve those production companies and who make up the vast majority of the film making industry. The state could also do a great many things to relieve the unique burdens faced by these self-employed people: health care, taxes, property values, banking, credit issues, etc. I can assure you that the freelance community is among the most underserved in our state when it comes to "employment benefits" and economic uncertainty. I haven't even mentioned all other peripheral trades like carpenters, truck drivers, etc - but they are clearly among this same massive group of low to middle income self employed people who continue to suffer the broader economic woes brought on by an incompetent and ineffective legislature.

Bottom line as it is currently written? This incentive package is in no way sustainable in any sense of the word. A few misguided investors may build a studio or two that will ultimately sit empty 90 percent of the time, but existing film production companies and professionals in Michigan stand to gain very little from this incentive package as it is currently being applied. In fact, they are very likely to suffer collateral damage as they share in the budgetary tax burden this is likely to place on individual and corporate Michigan taxpayers as a whole. The only winners may be a few hotels, restaurants and car rental companies that might reap some short term benefit. But any reasonable person has to seriously wonder how many hotel rooms and cars will need to be rented (or doughnuts and boxed lunches will need to be consumed) to generate enough tax to off set the huge checks Michigan seems hell bent on writing to out of state film makers.

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It seems projects have been announced quickly considering the legislation is only two months old. Here is the latest one:

WaterMark plans film, TV studios

The developers of WaterMark Center condos in Muskegon are partnering with a New York film company to create a multimillion-dollar production studio in their sprawling former factory building to support expected growth of Michigan's film industry.

The 17,000-square-foot production studio for films and commercials will include three major sound stages for film production with 52-foot-high ceilings for all types of production. The WaterMark Studio development will include ModernCine's mobile fleet of fully equipped lighting and production vehicles.

WaterMark Studios is currently being designed by Muskegon architect Gary Breen of Concept Design Studio. Rooks said company officials hope to have the film production studio operating by spring 2009.

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Michael Cera (Juno), Ray Liota, Gene Smart and Steve Buschemi(sp) are here in Traverse City filming "Youth In Revolt". We were in Frankfort on Tuesday, Lake Ann yesterday and will be in Interlochen and Leelanau the next couple of days.

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Like I stated above, Youth in Revolt shot here in Northern Michigan for a little over two weeks. I got to work on the set('s) while they were here. They packed up last week and headed back to the Detroit area to shoot the rest of the movie on a soundstage. Also, Ray Liota and Steve Bushemi never made it here as all of thier shots were already done.

Anyway here are some pics I took while we were in Lake Leelanau. Lake Leelanau RV Park to be exact. Enjoy.


Terrible picture of Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad) taken with my phone because my camera died





Fake police cars for the flick. The pic is of the seal on the door. It has a little nod to the state of Michigan. BTW, the movie is supposed to take place in Ukiah, CA.




This is the trailer that Michael Cera's character lives in.



This is the lovely double-decker trailer that Porscha Doubleday's character lives in.


The "moon" for the night shots.


Inside the Double-Decker.

Edit: Added pic and corrected some spelling.

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