Film industry training beginning in Grand Rapids
Almost one year after it began in Holland, basic training for entry-level stage hands and technicians who want to work in the budding Michigan film industry will begin in Grand Rapids in mid-March, provided by Grand Rapids Community College.
GRCC also provided the training in Holland for the past year at TicTock Studios. TicTock, an independent movie studio and production company where a feature film was shot last year, partnered with GRCC to provide experienced trainers, and is also now involved with providing the same type of training at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, plus other locations in Michigan.
The first training began at TicTock on April 7, 2008 — the very day Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the Michigan film industry incentives legislation. New film industry training programs are now popping up in other parts of the state, some of it with direct connections to the GRCC program.
Dori DePree is the director of educational outreach at TicTock Studios, which was established by her brother, Hopwood DePree. She said they began setting up the film industry training in November 2007 in anticipation of the push to establish a film industry in Michigan.
Hopwood DePree, 38, is a Holland-area native who attended the University of Southern California. He first got the attention of the movie industry with his 1995 "mockumentary" film, "Rhinoskin: The Making of a Movie Star," which he helped write and direct and also acted in. In 1999 he wrote, directed and starred in "The Last Big Attraction."
He founded TicTock Studios in 2006, and although his company is based in Los Angeles, DePree set up the studio in Holland, where "Tug," a feature film, was shot last year.
DePree also founded the Waterfront Film Festival in Saugatuck, now one of the five top-rated film festivals in the world, and Gov. Granholm appointed him to serve as an adviser to help bring the film industry to Michigan.
One of the main instructors for the GRCC training is Jeffrey Stott, who was executive producer of the 2008 box office hit "The Bucket List," starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Stott is a founding partner of Castle Rock Entertainment, and was in charge of production and post-production on more than 80 feature films including "In the Line of Fire," "Shawshank Redemption," "City Slickers," "The Green Mile" and "Miss Congeniality," as well as 30 television pilots and series including "Seinfeld."
"We've gone statewide with the training," said Dori DePree, noting that in addition to Stott, the other instructors are also Hollywood professionals and "all have film and television credits" that include feature films such as "Misery" and "Stand By Me."
Dan Clark, director of the GRCC Lakeshore Campus in Holland, said part of the focus of the training is to help Michigan workers who have lost their jobs. In order to better accommodate adults who may have day care issues, it was designed as a 40-hour class over two weeks — four hours a day, Monday through Friday.
The Basic Film Set training costs $1,500, and progresses to two higher-level courses, which cost $1,750 each. All three of the courses may qualify for No Worker Left Behind funding. Students who are displaced workers may ultimately receive up to $5,000 worth of movie industry training through Michigan Works. Clark said that as of January, 43 individuals had taken the training in Holland, and Michigan Works funded 12 of those students. Of the former students, Clark said he knew of 14 who had later found work on movie productions.
GRCC also recently announced it has partnered with a Detroit-area camera company to offer a two-hour technical workshop to train people in use of high-end film cameras required for feature film shoots.
GRCC is also in the early stages of developing a Fall Film Forum that will address how to get into the industry. It is for local businesses that want to become film industry suppliers, and also for individuals who want to get into movies, as writers or actors.
The three entry-level movie crew courses to be offered in March and April begin with the required course, Basic Film Set Training/Introduction to Technical Labor, followed by Electrician/Introduction to Technical Labor, and Film Grip.
The basic program is designed to provide intensive, hands-on training to prepare individuals for entry level employment in the film and television industry. The training covers a broad spectrum of on-set knowledge, and, as noted in the GRCC course literature, "is open to anyone with a passion to make films and the stamina to work long hours."
Unlike a conventional job in a factory or office, film industry employment can be sporadic, sometimes lasting only a few days or weeks, and often characterized by many long hours in a row — not conventional office hours.
At a meeting of the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce in January, Scott Brooks of TicTock Studios cautioned that individuals who find entry level work on film productions may "get some big paychecks" — but those same individuals might be faced with a following month or two of no work.
Dori DePree said she believes many more movies will be shot in Michigan now.
"I think actually more will go to the east side (of the state), but we will see our share on the west side," she said.
Most of the films shot in Michigan last year were done in the Detroit area because that is where most of the existing film studios, equipment rental companies and film industry professionals are in Michigan, a remnant of the years when Ford, General Motors and Chrysler spent many millions of dollars a year making car commercials there.
Hopwood DePree said he shot "Tug" in Michigan to qualify for the film incentives. It is now in post-production and will be released later this year.
"It's really been fantastic to see the industry explode like it has" in Michigan, he said.
DePree described "Tug" as a "low budget film, about a million (or) under a million" dollars in cost. He said it is a "dramatic comedy" about a guy in a perfect relationship who cannot stop thinking about his ex-girlfriend, who is played by Haylie Duff. Other lead roles are played by Sam Huntington, Sarah Drew and Yeardley Smith, who is the voice of Lisa Simpson in "The Simpsons."
"Tug" scenes were shot in several West Michigan locations, including Grand Rapids — and including a Russ' Restaurant.
"Anyone from West Michigan will recognize a lot of locations," he said.
DePree said there were "a lot of people in the Legislature and the governor, and people at the Film Office and a lot of people in the Michigan film industry itself, who really wanted to make Michigan the go-to state in the U.S. — the (film industry) production hub of the Midwest."
The incentive package passed a year ago is the reason “we're suddenly seeing so much focus — international focus and U.S. focus — from the film community on shooting in Michigan," said DePree.