Film Production Funds Keep Talent in Michigan

December 31, 2007
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LANSING — The city lights of New York and Los Angeles often attract Michigan residents who hope to break into the film and television industry. Aspiring costumers and wardrobe stylists, as well as those interested in directing, acting, set construction and other aspects of the industry, head to big cities in search of opportunities.

But what if this pool of people could find work here?

Pamela Patton, a wardrobe manager based in Grand Rapids and member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said that most such jobs in the state are part-time.

“If you really want to be involved on a regular basis, you need to go to New York or L.A., but more and more productions and films are coming to Michigan, and I think the state incentives are helping,” Patton said.

She has worked for stage and television, including an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” in which she matched clothes from an actual kidnap-murder that happened in Rockford and Newaygo County to characters in a TV re-creation.

“You can work in Michigan, move to where work is or be willing to travel,” she said.

But incentives provided by the state for film production have the potential to increase the number of major motion pictures made in the state and provide opportunities for local talent to become part of the production process.

Currently, Michigan offers tax refunds for productions costing $200,000 or more. If $200,000 to $1 million is spent in Michigan on production, the company can receive up to a 12 percent refund, while spending between $5 million and $10 million would earn up to a 20 percent refund.

Recent blockbusters filmed in the state include “Transformers” and “Dreamgirls,” which were produced in 2006 by DreamWorks. The 2001 Tom Hanks film “Road to Perdition,” another DreamWorks production, was partially filmed in the Holland area.

Patton said that fellow union members, including carpenters and lighting designers, assisted in that movie’s final scene.

“I’ve been in film production for over 20 years,” said Prop Aganda Studios President Charles Green, “and there is an amazing pool of talent here.

“We can do anything that would be called upon, and there is no reason why people shouldn’t use a local crew,” Green said. “They can get as good a job or better for less money in Michigan.”

His Livonia-based company builds sets and custom props for “television commercials, magazine layouts and advertising, brochures and occasionally music videos and feature films.”

His wife styles the sets that he builds. She also works as a wardrobe stylist and does hair and make-up.

“I think the incentive program was a good thing, and I would like to see more studio and independent productions come to town,” he said.

Patton said she finds it fascinating that “there are people from Michigan who were born here, got an education here, went to L.A., New York and Chicago, worked in the business for 10, 15, 20 years, and have now moved back to Michigan to start a family,” bringing their “big city skills” with them.

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