State follows lead of Hollywood veterans

February 16, 2009
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LANSING — They have lots of beaches up and down the West Coast. We have lots of beaches on four of the Great Lakes.

They have one of the richest music scenes in the United States, spawning the careers of rock bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Creedence Clearwater Revival. We have one of the richest music scenes in the United States, with Motown Records and Eminem.

They make a lot of movies. We’re going to make a lot of movies.

Maybe California and Michigan aren’t so different after all.

Since the state passed a law last year providing a tax credit of up to 42 percent of production companies’ expenditures while filming in Michigan, the film industry has had an effect on the state’s economy.

“More than 40 projects have come to Michigan” because of the incentives, said Democratic Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton of Huntington Woods. “You’re putting all kinds of people back to work, and you’re also bringing in a new industry.”

The most financially successful and widest theater release film to take advantage of the tax break is Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” filmed in parts of Metro Detroit, including Royal Oak and Warren. Since its limited release on Dec. 12, “Gran Torino” has grossed more than $101 million worldwide, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.

The film’s production budget was $33 million, meaning Michigan may have provided $14 million in tax breaks to Village Roadshow Pictures, Malpaso Productions and Media Magik Entertainment, its production studios.

The incentives are intended to create jobs, but many of them are temporary because there is no permanent studio in the state.

“I don’t know how much of a huge impact it has on the economy because people are here temporarily,” said Michigan Association of Counties legislative affairs director Tom Hickson.

“What would really get some big time investment is building a studio. If you build a studio here — that’s more permanent, with permanent jobs that come with it. They could include set and lighting crews.”

Lipton said a permanent studio is in Michigan’s near future.

“A $300 million investment in building a permanent film studio in Allen Park” is in the works, Lipton said.

While much of the attention regarding a studio in the state is focused on southeastern Michigan, the west side of the state is also expecting positive economic activity.

“Last year we saw six productions, with the biggest being around $5 million,” said West Michigan Tourist Association executive director Rick Hert. “A good half-dozen production companies are looking at spring shoots.”

Hert said the Michigan Economic Development Corp. is supplying $20 million to help build permanent studios. “Our hope is that studios are spread throughout the state,” he said.

Lipton said Michigan’s educational institutions would also benefit.

“If not now, (then) in the near future, institutions of higher learning will start to matriculate people into three- and six-month programs in film industry training.

“Education is a key component to economic development. Ultimately, you want to expose young people to the opportunities that are out there,” she said.

Lawrence Technological University in Southfield and the Motion Picture Institute in Troy have agreed to allow MPI film production students to transfer 21 credits toward a bachelor’s degree in media communication. MPI students will also receive priority admission into the media communication program.

"Our media communication students will get internships with many of these film productions, and we continue to explore creative avenues to increase marketability and visibility for our students," said Suzanne Levine, director of the program at Lawrence Tech.

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