Manistee studio facility attracts feature film projects

February 15, 2010
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The guys at 10 West Studios in Manistee have "heard rumblings of things in Grand Rapids," said Harold Cronk. But he and his partner, Matthew Tailford, have been too busy making movies to pay much attention to all the hoopla down here about Hangar42, the new movie studio in the former Lear plant in Walker.

10 West Studios had been the only purpose-built feature film studio in West Michigan. It opened officially a year ago in a former boatyard and has seven sound stages totaling more than 150,000 square feet.

"We've had three (movie productions) through the studio and we've booked two more through this coming year — so far," said Cronk last week. This week they are in Alaska, shooting scenes for another movie.

To be sure, several feature films have been shot in various locations in West Michigan in the last few years, including a couple by TicTock Studios in Holland. The TicTock people are moviemakers with Hollywood experience ("Tug," "What's Wrong with Virginia?"), but they don't actually have a sound stage.

"We have warehouses we've been working in," said CEO Hopwood DePree.

"The Steam Experiment" (renamed and released on DVD as "The Chaos Experiment") was filmed in Grand Rapids two years ago, much of it on location downtown but some of it on a set built in Dean Horn's studio in Plainfield Township. "Deano" has been in the film industry for many years but his relatively small sound stage has mainly been used for shooting television commercials and corporate videos.

"Offspring," a campy horror film, was shot by Moderncine of New York at a variety of locations in West Michigan two years ago, including a temporary set built inside the spooky old Shaw Walker furniture factory in Muskegon. ANM Group of Brooklyn, N.Y., which owns the vacant plant, announced almost two years ago it would soon build Watermark Studios there to take advantage of Michigan's film industry incentives. But no studio has been built there yet.

10 West Studios has not applied for the Michigan business tax credit for investing in permanent studio infrastructure, according to Cronk.

Hangar42, proclaimed by its PR agency as "the largest sound studio in the world," seems sized for major Hollywood productions, although all of the films shot in West Michigan lately have been independent productions in the relatively low-budget category.

All three films shot at 10 West Studios last year were faith-based, according to Cronk: "What If?," "John the Revelator" and "Jerusalem Countdown." He couldn't reveal how much the production companies spent on them, but "obviously they're not $20 million studio films. They're low-budget movies."

Still, the "Jerusalem Countdown," which will be released late this year, has some impressive names in the cast, including Randy Travis, Jaci Velasquez and Lee Majors, with an appearance by Stacy Keach.

Cronk, who makes his debut as a director in "Jerusalem Countdown," has worked in Hollywood, as has his partner, but both are West Michigan natives and would rather work here. Hollywood, he said, is "an industry run on fear" of failure.

Muskegon's service subsidized

Regularly scheduled air service at Muskegon County Airport has switched directions — and carriers.

Last week, United Express aircraft operated by SkyWest began daily service to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, the day after Delta Connection ended service to Detroit.

Delta, which was the only regularly scheduled airline serving Muskegon, filed to terminate service there last year, "which brought us into an EAS situation," said Dianne Hoofman, air travel marketing consultant at the Muskegon County Airport.

That meant Muskegon qualified for an Essential Air Service subsidy from the federal government. The EAS program came with the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, to guarantee that small communities that had been served by commercial airlines before deregulation would continue to have a minimal level of scheduled air service.

EAS status meant Delta could now "bid" for an EAS subsidy to continue service Muskegon — but it also meant other airlines could bid.

According to Hoofman, Delta Connect's sealed bid said it had to have a $1.2 million annual EAS subsidy, on a two-year contract. But the bid from SkyWest came in at $660,000 a year for two years.

In bidding for an EAS subsidy, airlines have to specify details of service they'll provide. Local airport officials have no say on the where or what of that service.

Delta said it would provide "what we already had," said Hoofman — two flights a day to Detroit on a 34-passenger turboprop. SkyWest offered two or three flights daily to Chicago (depending on the day of the week) on 50-passenger jets.

"We were very pleased," said Hoofman. "We'll take O'Hare any day."

Muskegon joins four other Michigan airports that have subsidized commercial carrier service. According to the US DOT, the other airports are Manistee, Escanaba, Iron Mountain/Kingsford, and Ironwood/Ashland.

GR claims airspace

Speaking of airports, when Dick DeVos was announcing that AirTran would begin service at Gerald R. Ford, he said GRR was "the dominant" airport in this region, the point being that the other regional airports — MKG, AZO and LAN — were siphoning off passengers who ought to be using GRR, which would increase traffic here and help encourage lower air fares. Former GR Mayor John Logie, who was in the audience, commented that maybe Grand Rapids ought to make Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Lansing "an offer they can't refuse" to get some kind of agreement to centralize air passenger traffic in West Michigan at GRR.

So how would the supporters of MKG respond to that?

Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, offered a carefully considered response:

"The concern in Muskegon for protecting our airport infrastructure is for the next generation of air travel," she said. "We have to look to the future when light jets will be a major player and will be able to service the smaller communities — and will prefer servicing the smaller communities through local airports."

"The light jets will take a larger part of the market share, and light jets are ideal for smaller airports," she said, adding that "the research shows that, in the future, there will be a lot more charter flights serving six to eight people."

Larsen also noted that northern West Michigan — such as Ludington and Manistee — is served by the Muskegon County Airport and "for that particular market, Grand Rapids is a stretch for the business traveler."

Trends drive technology

"This is going to be an exciting year at Tech Trends," said Keith Brophy, vice president, RCM Technologies — Enterprise Integration Solutions. "This is the year of the amazing breakthroughs."

Tech Trends, hosted by Brophy, is a lighthearted but insightful look ahead at how technology will impact business and life. It will be held Wednesday evening at the GVSU Eberhard Center at 5:30 p.m. More information can be found at the aimWest Web site: www.aimwest.org

"There is a lot of change afoot in the way that we harness computing power and interact with the world," he said. "One of the trends that we're going to talk about is the hands-free user interfaces, and the way you can accomplish tasks by motion and, in some cases, simply by thought. These have been lab concepts in the past and they're starting to roll out to deployed solutions now.

"One of the things that have been predicted for a long time is that some of the gaming paradigms will cross over into business solutions. It hasn't really happened yet, but this year we're starting to see the signs that some of the models of the virtual experience, as well as the user interaction, are going to cross over into business systems."

Brophy said this shift will put a more visual emphasis on how companies organize information and the systems they use and how work gets done.

"For example, you might have a manager responsible for resource assignment. In the past, they might be clicking on a spreadsheet," he said. "In the future, they might step into a door that takes them to ice-covered glaciers, desert and lush green forests all around them, and they might have stick people in each location that represent the resources on troubled projects … and just by moving their hands, pick up the stick people and drop them over here. With the clap of their hands, they might see lizards or dinosaurs, based on the client satisfaction resources."

Brophy acknowledged that such systems might seem farfetched but suggested that may not be the case.

"It will quit being 'way out there' when businesses can clean the clock of their competition, because their systems of management are stimulating and spark the creative juices and are such an engaging experience that their managers spend five-times as much emotional energy," he said. "The systems that seem out of touch today are actually the ones that are going to provide a competitive advantage."

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