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Mo(tion picture) Town

By Vincent D. Scebbi
On October 25, 2010

The following is the second part of a four-part IC series on the local effects of the cinema industry. The third part looks at a regional comparison of the West coast and Midwest in terms of 3-D cinema. The final part gives insight on how movie theaters provide an escape to its consumers in tough economic times.

Looking out at the Detroit skyline can seem much like staring at the cityscapes of New York and Moscow - so long as Hollywood cameras are there to do the trick.

"It's like going to Vancouver and trying to recreate New York, and that becomes interesting because when you go to Vancouver and you get this avocation of New York and theoretically experience New York through a Jackie Chan movie," said Matt Yockey, an assistant professor of film at UT.

More movies are being made in the Detroit area and the state of Michigan because of the tax incentives passed in 2008, awarding movie companies a maximum of 42 percent of their money back if they produce their movies in the state.

Film companies earn a maximum of 40 percent back if they hire Michigan workers and Michigan-based companies to provide services and receive an additional two percent rebate on their investment if they shoot in a "core community" such as Detroit or Pontiac, Mich., said Michelle Begnoche, communications director at the Michigan Film Office.

Begnoche estimates that by the end of 2010, Michigan will have brought in over $300 million for the state, making the total money earned from film companies surpass $648 million since 2008.

For being a relatively young program, Begnoche said Michigan Film Office has seen steady growth.

Since the incentives passed, Michigan has been used to make 119 feature films, Begnoche said, increasing from 38 productions in 2008 to 43 productions made in 2009.

"We have received this year 101 applications, and we have approved 52 projects and 38 productions have already wrapped so far this year," she said. "We're seeing success in the program and those are the numbers we know."

Senior Vice President of Film Detroit Chris Baum said one advantage producers have in southeast Michigan is that the area provides a variety of sets for crews to make their movies.

"When producers have never been to Michigan or Detroit before, they have a narrow range of locations to shoot," Baum said. "When they come here, they realize that there's everything from art deco skyscrapers to burntout buildings to expensive suburbs to farms."

One particular example is the 2011 movie entitled "The Double," in which Detroit was used for cities such as Washington, D.C. and Moscow, Russia.

Another benefit, according to Baum, is that producers have more freedom to make their movies. For example, for the filming of the 2011 movie "The Irishman," the crew exploded 21 cars in Detroit.

"Blowing up 21 cars in a downtown area in most parts of the country could be a hassle," he said. "You have extensive permitting for each one and you have a lot of approvals to go through for every situation. I'm not saying that we did anything unsafe, but our police department was more flexible and worked closer with producers than they were used to."

Baum and Begnoche both said the people in Michigan are friendlier toward film crews using their neighborhoods to film movies.

"If you go to Los Angeles and go into somebody's neighborhood to shoot a house, people complain about the lights being on late at night that they couldn't get to sleep," Baum said. "Whereas they come here, people offer them iced tea and lemonade saying, ‘thank you for coming to Michigan.'"

Beside the quantifiable statistics, Begnoche said the film industry plays a big role in keeping local businesses from closing down as well as offering employment for younger Michigan residents, ultimately keeping them in the state.

"I've been on sets and talked to two workers who were about to lose their house or who have been out of work for over a year who are being put back to work because of these jobs," she said. "It's also a good way to reshape our image and get some really good news getting out of Michigan."

The Michigan Film Office has intentions of keeping the film industry around for the long haul with the construction of Grace & Wild Studios and the construction of Raleigh Michigan Studios, which will be fully open in May 2011, according to Baum.

Baum added Raleigh is a good way for Hollywood to take Detroit seriously in becoming a Midwestern playground for producers and the studio will help increase the revenue brought in from movies to over $500 million, making the area into one of the major players in film production.

Begnoche said the film industry is one example of how Michigan is attempting to rebuild itself in the post-recession era by making their economy more diverse and, "not putting all of our eggs in one basket."

"It's part of the solution, it's part of diversifying the economy to bring jobs to Michigan and bring young people here," she said.

South of the Michigan border, UT Associate Professor of Film Tammy Kinsey said the boom in the film industry can open the door for film students in Toledo to gain some actual experience and hopefully help them find a job in the film industry without leaving the Midwest region.

"There are internships and jobs and places to get experience and places to go watch or be a productions' assistant," Kinsey said. "Not everyone can afford to go to New York or Los Angeles for the summer. For those who need to stay closer to home, I think it makes more sense because it's cheap to live around here, very much so, as compared to the major metropolis of Los Angeles."

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