Hollywood on the Huron: <i>Michigan</i> now a film mecca

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First it was Louisiana. Then it was New Mexico and New York. Now it’s Michigan’s turn as the latest hot spot for film production. Not since Michael Moore’s documentary “Roger and Me” has the Great Lakes state garnered so much attention from Hollywood.

Once considered a relative backwater as a film destination, Michigan has lured more than 60 features and made-for-TV movies this year, up from just three last year, according to the Michigan Film Office. The projects include upcoming films as well as recently-wrapped movies such as Clint Eastwood’s ‘Gran Torino,’ a drama about at Korean War vet who befriends his young neighbor; ‘Whip It!,’ a Drew Barrymore-directed comedy starring Ellen Page of ‘Juno’ fame; and the sci-fi thriller ‘Butterfly Effect: Revelation’ (pictured above). Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures all have films lined up to shoot in Michigan this fall.

Under Michigan’s program, producers get 40 cents back for every $1 they spend on filming (double the existing rebate) and qualify for an additional 2% spending rebate if the film is shot in designated ‘core communities,’ including Detroit and Flint.

The rebate covers salaries of crew members and above-the-line talent up to $2 million per person (so that wouldn’t cover the typical fees commanded by the likes of a Brad Pitt or a George Clooney). Additionally, the new law provides a 25% tax credit for companies that invest in new film and digital media studios in the state and would cover 50% of on-the-job training expenses for Michigan residents working as crew members.


Thanks to such incentives, Michigan expects to pull in nearly $400 million in film revenues this year, a welcome boost to a state that has been buffeted by the woes of the Big Three auto makers. “The response has been magnificent,’ says Anthony Wenson, chief operating officer for the Michigan Film Office. “We’ve not only brought dollars into the state, but we’ve created new jobs.”

How long Michigan enjoys its moment in the sun -- yes, there’s sun in Michigan -- remains to be seen. The state doesn’t have the quantity of crews or the production facilities of more established locales such as Vancouver, Canada, and New York. And, of course, there’s nothing to stop another state from coming along and cooking up even more generous incentives.

But for now, Michigan’s success is a stark reminder of California’s continued vulnerability to runaway production. Much to the lament of unions and industry officials, California does not have an incentive program to keep its signature industry at home. This, despite having a former movie star in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

-- Richard Verrier