You Oughta Be In Pictures — Soon

May 30, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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ALLENDALE — The West Michigan Chamber Coalition is meeting Wednesday morning at GVSU to show area business managers how they might cash in on the movie and television productions coming to Michigan, in response to the new state incentives for the film industry.

State Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, will be one of the featured speakers at the forum, which runs from 8-10 a.m. in the GVSU Kirkhof Center. The forum is free but RSVPs are required: Call Andy Johnston at (616) 771-0335.

Huizenga, who first proposed incentives for movie productions in Michigan in 2004, was one of the principal backers of the film incentive legislation signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in early April. He said he plans to talk about "some of the successes that we have had," although he noted that those are anecdotal because "we are only six weeks into this."

"Already in a short period of time, we are seeing a significant up-tick in activity," said Huizenga. He said a total of about $2 million or $3 million was spent on film and television productions in Michigan last year, but since the incentives were enacted on April 7, "we're approaching $200 million" in commitments by producers who plan to make movies in Michigan this year.

When she signed the incentive laws in April, Granholm said "the film industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. We're going to bring some of that investment to Michigan."

At that time, Variety, the entertainment industry trade publication, printed Granholm's claim that the Michigan film incentives are now the most aggressive in the nation.

One of the projects coming to Michigan because of the incentives is a Clint Eastwood film being produced by Warner Bros. It will be shot in the Detroit area and is tentatively called "Grand Torino," according to The Wall Street Journal.

Huizenga said legislators heard testimony last week about the sudden impact of the film incentives. He said a vice president from Enterprise Rent-A-Car told them it has signed seven contracts for car rentals for movie productions in Michigan this year, with those contracts being worth about $400,000.

"We heard from individuals in larger companies that are seeing an ancillary increase in business — hotel rooms, caterers, construction people," said Huizenga.

The Wall Street Journal reported in late May that almost 40 states are competing for big-budget film productions to bolster their economies, and that Michigan was one of four states that upped the ante this spring. Michigan previously enacted rebates in 2007 for up to 20 percent of the cost of movies produced here, but other states quickly offered higher incentives.

The new laws provide a refundable or transferable tax credit equal to 40 percent of the cost of producing films in Michigan, or 42 percent if the film is made in one of Michigan's 103 designated "core communities": Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Norton Shores, Holland and Grand Haven.

The credit is used against a film production company's Michigan Business Tax liability, but if the credit is larger than the tax owed, once the MBT is paid, "the rest of that would actually be cut back to the producer in the form of a check," said Huizenga.

The Michigan Film Office, part of the state government, used to be under the Department of History, Arts and Libraries but has been transferred to the Michigan Strategic Fund, with staff support provided by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The MFO acts as the clearing house for movie producers who apply for the Michigan incentives.

Janet Lockwood, director of the MFO, reportedly said last week there have been 44 applicants and 21 have been given the go-ahead to begin shooting here. When contacted by the Business Journal, her office referred questions to Granholm's office. According to Megan Brown, a spokesperson for Granholm's office, as of May 28, 19 film productions had been approved for the incentive program, with a total investment value of $173.6 million. Some of the producers are new to Michigan and some are not, said Brown.

Joe Voss, who described himself as an "entertainment attorney," represents the Grand Rapids office of Ungaretti & Harris, a Chicago law firm. Voss said he offered advice to the MFO and Huizenga when the incentives laws were bring drafted, and he will be one of the featured speakers at the Chamber Coalition forum Wednesday.

Voss said one of his clients is Enthusiastic Productions, which has previously filmed segments of the "Come On Over" children's television program at Hope College. This month, the cast and crew will begin shooting more segments, with the help of the state incentives.

Much of Voss' legal work involving film productions relates to financing and insurance, he said.

"Like legal fees, financing costs are also rebateable" under the incentives, he said. He said he is representing some local banks that may be interested in some aspect of financing movie productions.

A feature film typically involves "10 to 60 days of high-spend production," he said, and "everyday, money has to move to keep the wheels in motion."

Movie productions also require specialized insurance coverage. If that company is subject to the MBT, that expense is also rebateable to the production company, said Voss.

Michigan's film production incentives package is "the best in the country," said Voss.

"Productions will follow that money," he added.

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