Movie business advocates Strong performance here

February 18, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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The movie industry in West Michigan saw a “tremendously successful” 2010, according to Michigan Film Commissioner Carrie Jones, but the new administration in Lansing could mean a reduction or cancellation of the film industry incentives enacted under the Granholm administration, due to some complaints that they are excessive.

Jones, who has headed the state government’s Michigan Film Office since longtime director Janet Lockwood stepped down in June, said two major movie productions shot in the area last year were “30 Minutes or Less” and “Setup.”

“Setup,” she said, was “a big budget project.” According to Internet Movie Data Base (, “Setup,” had an estimated budget of $22 million, although only about a third of that was to be spent in Michigan.

“I think we’re looking at around $300 million” spent on movie productions throughout Michigan last year, “but we’re still getting a lot of data in,” said Jones.

Michigan has had a film office since 1979 to promote the growth of a film industry in the state. In recent years, many states began competing in offering incentives to lure movie producers to their states, and in April 2008, Michigan enacted tax credit incentives that give production companies what amounts to a 40 to 42 percent refund on most production costs incurred in Michigan. Eligible projects include motion pictures, documentaries, TV series, music videos, video games and sound recordings, according to the Film Office.

Last year, the film incentive law was amended to require the Film Office to provide reports every six months, reviewing the applications for the credits and those approved. Jones provided a report to Gov. Rick Snyder Jan. 13 that states 69 movie projects were approved for incentives throughout all of 2010, and 48 incentivized projects were completed.

From July 1 to Dec. 31, 42 applications for incentivized movie projects were received, with 26 of them approved. Those 26 represent proposals to spend $168 million in Michigan, with a potential of $65 million in refundable tax credits for those producers when the movies are completed and all conditions met.

“Setup,” which finished shooting in Grand Rapids in December, was among those given the go-ahead by the Film Office in the second half of 2010. It had a proposed Michigan investment of $7.3 million with the potential to qualify for an estimated credit of $3 million.

Out of the 26 movies accepted for the incentive program in the last half of 2010, three were to be shot in or near Grand Rapids, one in Traverse City, one in Huron County and the rest in southeast Michigan.

The Film Office annual report submitted in March 2010 by Lockwood lists 41 movies shot in 2009, for a total expenditure in the state of almost $181 million, and with total estimated refundable credits of almost $69 million. A total of 3,867 people were employed on the movie projects.

The 2009 annual report also notes “individual success stories” in the state, as a result of the incentives. It includes Deano’s Inc., a studio in Grand Rapids that has been in business for 20 years. In 2008 and 2009, Deano’s was involved with three movies, taking in $123,000 in revenue, according to the Film Office.

As for 2011, Jones said the Film Office anticipates “the same level of productions as in the previous years, at this point.”

Rick Hert, executive director of the West Michigan Tourist Association, set up the West Michigan Film Office to scout locations for film producers who want to take advantage of the incentives. He said the West Michigan Film Office contacted hotels to find out how many room nights last year could be attributed to movie people working in the area.

“It was in excess of 26,000 room nights,” he said, with most of those in the Greater Grand Rapids area.

Chad LeRoux, executive corporate director of marketing for the Amway Hotel Corp., said movie industry people paid for 1,407 room nights last year at the JW Marriott and 675 at the Amway Grand Plaza.

LeRoux said those movie industry room nights are less than 1 percent of its total annual traffic. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in the movie production” traffic, he said. “Has it been an instrumental or significant impact on our business? No. But it has proven to generate a handful of room nights” whenever a production is in town.

Hert said other businesses that benefit include cab companies and car rental agencies.

“We had times last summer when there were no rental cars left in town,” he said.

Hert has long maintained that it will take time for the movie industry incentives to firmly establish the industry in Michigan. As for possible moves in the Legislature to reduce or eliminate the incentives, Hert said he understands that the new administration intends to “get rid of all incentives. But now what we need to do is prove which ones need to come back on the table,” and movie industry supporters are working on that data.

“We know that the state is not getting the proceeds back in taxes for what they’re putting into (the incentives),” said Hert, but he added that more research needs to be done to reveal the total economic impact and job creation resulting from the movie industry.

“The proof is in the pudding,” said Deb Havens, chair of the West Michigan Film Video Alliance. “We have had something like 35 million dollars worth of production work come to West Michigan.”

The WMFVA is a mutual support organization of more than 200 professionals in the region whose career involves film or video production. It was formed when the Michigan recession set in after 2000, “when companies like Steelcase, Amway, Meijer and a lot of other major corporate facilities had to let go of their (film/video) production units. So those folks were out on the street” looking for work, according to Havens.

The WMFVA maintains a public database of individuals qualified to work as crew members on film productions or in some other professional capacity.

The film industry tax credits have “brought people back to Michigan who had left the state” when their corporate assignments dried up, she said.

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