Michigan filmmakers not limited to friendly weather

June 28, 2010
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Randall Emmett, a movie producer who announced that he is setting up shop in Grand Rapids to help other moviemakers take advantage of the movie industry incentives here, said at a press conference last week that he is “one of the few” who will brave the Michigan winter to film scenes outside when the snow is flying.

Emmett made that comment after West Michigan’s premier movie industry promoter, Rick Hert of the West Michigan Tourist Association, called out to him to remind the crowd that movie-making here is “year round — we’re not just seasonal.”

Emmett’s film services production company is called Grand Rapids Films & Services. Emmett has joined forces with Sakonnett Capital Partners, of Providence, R.I., led by Anthony Gudas. Gudas, who also has a business called Tax Credit Finance LLC, will help “navigate” producers through the Michigan film industry tax credit process.

GRF&S will serve as a “one-stop shop” for producers, said Emmett. It will help find and train local crews and identify vendors (security, hotels, transportation, caterers, etc.), plus offer consultants and help find locations and sound stages.

According to Hert, Emmett has been involved in the production of about 60 movies, including the recent remake of “Rambo” and “Day of the Dead.” He was involved with three films shot in West Michigan over the past two years — “Things Fall Apart,” “Caught in the Crossfire” and “Gun”— all of which star Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. (Val Kilmer and John Larroquette also starred in “Gun.”)

Emmett and Curtis formed a production company called Cheetah Vision Films, and Curtis was also the writer on the “Gun” screenplay.

“My goal, every single month, is to start a new movie here,” said Emmett.

GRF&S will occupy offices close to the West Michigan Film Office/West Michigan Tourist Association on Kenmoor Avenue off Cascade Road, according to Hert.

“Gun” received good local publicity in January when action scenes were filmed inside the former Lear plant in Walker. That was just about three weeks or so before Gov. Jennifer Granholm told the world in her state of the state speech that the former factory was now a movie studio called Hangar42.

Caught in the crosshairs

Speaking of Hangar42; Jack Buchanan Jr. was also in the crowd listening to the announcement last week staged by Hert and Emmett.

Hangar42 is in the crosshairs of much criticism, since the conservative Mackinac Center discovered that it had been for sale as a factory for about $9.8 million, just a few weeks before Buchanan sold it —for $40 million, on land contract — as a film studio to a mysterious investment group headed by Joe Peters, a former Steelcase Inc. executive.

Buchanan said the Peters group applied in November for the 25 percent Michigan tax credit for investment in studio infrastructure, which should yield a transferrable — i.e. sellable — tax credit worth about $10 million to the group.

However, Hangar42 has not received the tax credit and the Business Journal has heard murmurs in Lansing that it has been turned down, although Buchanan says that is not true.

“They can’t deny it,” he said. He maintains that when the Michigan Film Office approved the tax credit application in November, it was, in effect, a legally binding contract that the state is obliged to honor.

It’s an election year and Hangar42 has attracted a slew of negative attention by candidates who are posturing indignantly about “big government” in Lansing squandering the taxpayers’ money. Now Attorney General Mike Cox (a gubernatorial candidate) just happens to be investigating the Hangar42 affair.

When the Business Journal asked Buchanan what he thought of that, he said, “I think it’s good.”

“I know that sounds weird,” he added, then explained that he welcomes the AG’s scrutiny of the Hangar42 deal because “finally” the scrutiny is from “somebody that’s not The Grand Rapids Press and the Mackinac Center.”

Japanese ambassador visits

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, Rotary Club of Grand Rapids, The Economic Club of Grand Rapids, The Right Place Inc. and the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan will host a luncheon honoring His Excellency Ichiro Fujisaki, ambassador of Japan to the United States, on

Wednesday at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Ambassador Ballroom.

Co-chairs for the event are Doug and Maria DeVos, Hank and Liesel Meijer, and Steve and Cindy Van Andel.

The Host Committee includes Marty and Sue Allen, Joe and Donna Calvaruso, Jim and Kathy Hackett, Doyle Hayes and Kathy Fore, Mayor George and Susan Heartwell, Dave and Linda Mehney and Gleaves Whitney.

Quite a return

Would you invest $13,305.81 for the chance to net a return of $7.5 million each year for five years? Warren Buffet probably would, and the city of Grand Rapids did. That’s the city’s tab for its income-tax ballot proposal that voters approved May 4. The bill comes from Kent County Clerk Mary Hollinrake, and city commissioners agreed recently to pay it.

Voters approved the measure by a vote of 9,759 to 9,555. That means the city spent less than $1.40 for each “yes” vote. City Manager Greg Sundstrom, who has only been on the job since last August, has made it a point to search for efficiencies, and this one may ultimately be the most efficient that he — or any other public official — will ever find during his tenure.

WZZM newscast tops

The 11 p.m. newscast of WZZM 13, the Grand Rapids ABC affiliate owned by Gannett Co. Inc., is ranked No. 1 in the Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek Designated Market Area for rating period May 2010, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Other ranking highlights touted by WZZM include top spots in early morning news programming, its 6 p.m. news program for adults ages 25-54 and its 6 p.m. Sunday news program for adults ages 25-54 and women ages 25-54.

WZZM’s “Take Five & Co.” outperformed WOOD-TV’s “EightWest” for adult viewers ages 25-54 and women ages 25-54.

“West Michigan residents have many choices on how to spend their time," said Janet Mason, president and GM of WZZM 13 and wzzm13.com. "We are very honored that more and more people are choosing to watch WZZM 13."

Keaton statue lands

A life-sized bronze statue of silent film star Buster Keaton has left its longtime home in Hollywood and will be unveiled this week at its new home outside the Frauenthal Theatre in downtown Muskegon.

Why Muskegon?

Keaton spent his summers basking in the sun along Muskegon’s scenic shoreline. He loved the lakeside town so much that he bragged about it to other actors of the vaudeville era who followed him here. They became known as the Actors Colony of Bluffton, a reference to the neighborhood where they stayed.

For years, the statue greeted visitors outside the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. It depicts Keaton in his signature vest and porkpie hat standing behind his camera.

It’s only fitting that the statue returns to Muskegon, given Keaton’s affection for the town’s waterfront charm, organizers say.

“The best summers of my life were spent in the cottage (my father) had built on Muskegon Lake,” Keaton wrote in his autobiography, “My Wonderful World of Slapstick.”

Emmanuil Snitkovsky, who enjoyed international acclaim for his imaginative artwork, created the Keaton statue. He also crafted statues of actors Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball.

The Alta Daetz and the Sydney and Eunice Bush Funds from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County — which are dedicated to downtown beautification — provided the majority of the $22,000 purchase price.

“That’s a bargain, since I am sure these pieces were double or triple that amount when they were originally commissioned,” said Community Foundation for Muskegon County President Chris McGuigan.

According to the website actorscolony.com, the Keaton family discovered the Muskegon area during trips to perform at the former Lake Michigan Park Theatre.

“I think it’s fantastic that someone who comes to Muskegon and walks around the downtown will bump into this statue and realize, ‘Wow! Buster has ties here,” said Ron Pesch, a Muskegon historian on Buster Keaton. “Buster is widely considered one of the absolute greatest directors in cinema history.”

The grand unveiling of the statue will be part of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County’s annual gathering at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts. The event will be held 4-6 p.m. June 30 in downtown Muskegon.

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