Focus, Economic Development, and Film

Film fest hopes to pique Hollywoods interest again

September 23, 2012
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An upcoming West Michigan film festival is hoping to raise Hollywood’s interest in the Great Lakes State’s student filmmakers.

The Mosaic Film Experience is a filmmaking competition for college and high school students in which participants must create a short film under 12 minutes long.

Anyone can enter a film for free, but only student participants are eligible to win the top prizes in either the high school or college categories for best films. First place will receive $1,000, second place $500 and third place $250. The entry deadline for submissions has passed.

Skot Welch, founder of the festival and founder and managing partner of Global Bridge Builders, said local businesses showed overwhelming support, donating somewhere between $50,000 and $65,000 for the festival. Such generosity speaks not only to the community, he said, but also to the fact that the event is filling a community need.

“This is part of creating a culture where employers and artists want to stay,” Welch said. “We are a part of that community committed to looking at West Michigan as a viable spot to bring the film industry.”

Welch said organizers expected about 100 films to be submitted, which will be pared down by the judging panel to about 20 or 30 films. More than 100 hours of film will be shown at the festival, which is scheduled for Oct. 12-14 at Celebration Cinema South in Kentwood.

“We are trying to make this so young people will know this is totally built around them and for them,” Welch said. “I want this to create conversation that celebrates the brilliance of our young people. If we could be known for good films but also have a place for young people to shoot and show their films, then it would come full circle.”

Two Michigan natives are returning home for the festival to give presentations for students. Owl Johnson, manager of the Native American and Indigenous Program and programming associate for the Sundance Film Festival, and Ryan Brown, freelance producer/director for television and digital media, both attended college in Michigan but left for out-of-state opportunities.

Johnson, who said he will be tracking young talent here for a future in independent films, hopes the festival will inspire students.

He said a little inspiration might attract students to train here and also encourage Michigan legislators to give Hollywood incentives for local job creation.

“It’s competitive with state incentives, and that’s what it comes down to,” Johnson said. “Let’s say 10 films wanted to come to Michigan to shoot all at the same time. Unfortunately, there’s not enough (Michigan) people (who are trained) to fill all those jobs.”

Johnson and Brown agreed film and digital media education is the first step toward making Michigan attractive for filmmakers, but Brown also stressed the need for education reform in the current system.

“One of the problems I ran into in Grand Valley (State University) … they tailor their program to people who have never picked up a camera. And just the way technology is moving, you’re going to have a large student body coming in who has experience with this stuff … since they were kids,” Brown said.

“When I came into the school, I was comfortable with the camera and editing, and often times, I think that was a barrier for me because they would say, ‘Ryan, you can only use this kind of camera.’ It was very limiting.”

Two veteran voices in the Michigan film industry supported Johnson and Brown’s insights.

Deb Havens, founding chair of West Michigan Film Video Alliance and CEO of Film Friendly Michigan, and Richard Hert, film commissioner at the West Michigan Film Office, both said education and incentives are key to boosting the state’s economy through film production.

“It’s exactly what we need to attract a younger, talented group of people, and bringing in infrastructure — more buildings and such to house all the equipment — that, of course, is how your local community grows,” Havens said. “Not to mention all that’s generated by activity at restaurants and shops.”

The upcoming blockbuster “Oz: the Great and Powerful” was filmed in Michigan, Hert said, and paid for $7 million worth of state lumber for production.

Although the business has its profits, it may not be able to survive the past five years of Michigan’s stormy love affair with Hollywood. In 2008, then Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a tax incentive offering 42 percent back on eligible film industry expenditures in the state with no cap.

Upon taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder implemented a $25 million cap on the program. The cap, although praised as “fiscally responsible” by Havens and Hert, dried up Hollywood’s interest. But hopes rose again this summer when Snyder doubled the cap to $50 million until 2013.

Havens’ game plan is to continue offering seminars and professional opportunities for people who do want to participate in the film industry.

“What you do have is an industry with so many components to it and so 21st-century based,” Havens said. “It offers new opportunities we can’t even imagine yet. And I sure don’t want Michigan left behind in that.”

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