Indie filmmaker wants to save movie biz incentives

March 13, 2011
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One of the producers of the Thriller! Chiller! film festival in Grand Rapids said the festival will donate 42 percent of ticket sales over a specified period to an organized effort to help save the Michigan film industry incentives, which Gov. Rick Snyder has targeted for a major scaleback.

“I know of someone who immediately lost their job within two hours of that proposal coming out” in mid-February, Anthony Griffin told Business Journal reporter Pete Daly.

Griffin is an independent filmmaker and owner of the UnSAFE Film Office, a Grand Rapids film production company.

He said he has heard that “all the applications right now are being reviewed with the idea that it’s going to be capped at $25 million. That’s already happening.” He added that film production companies that have been interested in shooting in Michigan “are just going to go to the next best state.”

The next few months are crucial, he said, when “everybody puts their two cents in” as the Michigan Legislature debates Snyder’s proposal to cap the annual value of movie-making incentives at $25 million beginning in fiscal 2012. Last year, the state approved about $163 million in incentives to filmmakers.

Griffin and Chris Randall, of Fulvew Productions, organized Thriller! Chiller! six years ago. It is held in October at Wealthy Theatre. In 2010, more than a third of the 50 films screened were made by Michigan filmmakers and their production companies.

“A $25 million cap of the film tax incentives devastates the fledgling film industry in Michigan before it’s had a chance to mature,” said Randall. “And we all need to do our part in the legislative process to make our voices heard and keep people working in Michigan until the industry becomes firmly established here.”

Griffin said in late February that for the next 100 days, 42 percent of pre-season ticket sales for the 2011 Thriller! Chiller! would be put in escrow for donation to a nonprofit organization that sets up a fund to persuade the Legislature to preserve the movie industry incentives as-is. Two such organizations are the Michigan Production Alliance, based in southeast Michigan, and the West Michigan Film Video Alliance in Grand Rapids. He said the donated money could be used to set up a speakers bureau to conduct lobbying efforts on behalf of the entire Michigan film community.

Griffin, a 41-year-old Grand Rapids native, started UnSAFE Film Office in 2003 and was a board member of the West Michigan Film Video Alliance for four years. In January, he was named Filmmaker of the Year by the Muskegon Film Festival. He has produced and shot two full-length films, "Fairview St." and "Handlebar," starring Michael McCallum of Lansing. His next film, “Lucky," will be released this month.

McCallum has his own company called Rebel Pictures. Griffin said he and McCallum are known as “true independent filmmakers” among the film circuit — “meaning we raise capital to make our films through crowdsourcing and sales of our DVDs — if we are lucky.”

Have any of Griffin’s small-budget movies qualified for the state’s movie industry incentives? “Not at all. Not even close,” he replied.

Thriller! Chiller! is a for-profit enterprise — “although we’ve never made a profit,” said Griffin, laughing. “We do it because we love it.”

Griffin’s movie-making projects and Thriller! Chiller! do not support him.

“I work a full-time day job. I’m also a full-time independent film maker,” he said. His “day job” is IT manager for a financial company.

Griffin said the movie incentives led to increased work for individuals and businesses here that were already involved in film production. “People who have grown their business — like David Lowing at Lowing Light & Grip (in Wyoming) — that’s being taken away from them,” said Griffin.

A pass to the three-day Thriller! Chiller! festival costs $30 and can be purchased online at Thriller! Chiller! focuses on what Griffin described as the best of independently made movies in the sci-fi, action, suspense and horror genre.

Bikers and business

Noise and excitement are big issues when motorcycle owners get together in large, organized gatherings in the middle of town — but it’s really money, not gasoline or beer, that fuels the big biker events.

Expenses are the big issue in both the postponed River City Bike Week in Grand Rapids and Muskegon’s popular Bike Time, which marked its fourth year in 2010, when at least 60,000 — some say 92,000 — motorcycles rolled into town for a weekend last July.

On Saturday, Bike Time will hold its second annual Winter Bash at the L.C. Walker Arena Annex in downtown Muskegon, sponsored by the Muskegon Lumberjacks and featuring vendors, food, “favorite beverages” and live music by ShopTalk and Westside Soul Surfers.

The Winter Bash is all about raising money, according to Jimmy Derezinski, a well-known Muskegon County commissioner and motorcycle(s) owner. He’s also one of the Bike Time founders and chairman of its board.

It takes “a lot of money to put that on,” he said. Funds are needed for extra police on the streets, city permits, clean-up, and paying the bands and entertainers that help attract the families and tourists that spend a lot of money.

“The Winter Bash this month is an opportunity to generate some seed money,” basically for entertainment costs, said Derezinski. “If we don’t keep it fresh and new and with different ideas, it’s going to go the way of a lot of things,” he said.

Muskegon Bike Time is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the goal of raising money for the Red Cross.

“Actually, we’re still trying to get out of debt from the first two years when we didn’t make any money. Hopefully, this year we’ll accomplish that goal,” he said.

The proposed River City Bike Week in downtown Grand Rapids was pitched as an eight-day event this summer but was soon whittled down to a weekend when Furniture City leaders were somewhat less than enthusiastic. Now organizer Mark Mensch says it’s off until next year due to a lack of sponsors and the subsequent likelihood of starting out this year already hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole.

Bikers spend quite a bit of dough at Bike Time, which takes place on the Muskegon waterfront downtown. The hotels are full and the restaurants, bars and shops are busy; “I’ve got to think it’s in the millions,” said Derezinski.

Derezinski said when he first heard about the potential event in downtown Grand Rapids, he “took it as a compliment” because “they’re trying to emulate what we’ve established.

“I didn’t like the way it first came out; it was going to be direct competition,” he said.

Grand Rapids might not have fared too well had it gone head to head with Muskegon Bike Time, because the Port City has a long history as a biker’s town. The American Motorcyclist Association’s professional hill climb is held every other year at Mount Garfield in nearby Norton Shores, a national competition that began there 88 years ago.

“Muskegon is used to seeing big groups of motorcycles. Is Grand Rapids?” said Derezinski.

Still, just hours before he got word that the Grand Rapids event wouldn’t happen this year, Derezinski told the Business Journal he hoped it would do well. “Emphasize: We would love to have a coordinated effort. That is something that would attract people to West Michigan. If it can work out, I’ll be there,” he said.

Doors to Winter Bash open at noon, with live music starting at 4 p.m. Admission is $5; children under 10 get in free.

The Furniture Design City

Maria Havenaar didn’t go to Kendall College of Art & Design intending to become a furniture designer. But Kendall — and Heritage Hill — turned her into one.

She went there to study fine arts and “became interested in furniture while I was there,” said Havenaar, a 2005 Kendall grad who promptly moved down to High Point, N.C. Today, she works for a furniture design firm there called Wheeless & Associates.

Havenaar, a native of Kalamazoo, has designed a line of casegoods residential furniture called Grand Bay, now being sold by Art Van Furniture, which is based in Warren. Diane Charles of Art Van said it reflects the “Somewhere In Time” aura of Mackinac Island.

Prior to attending Kendall, Havenaar said she wasn’t aware of furniture design as a career, but that changed after she came to Grand Rapids. Kendall has a huge focus on furniture design, and it also helped that Havenaar lived in Heritage Hill “in one of the oldest homes there, one of the brick mansions built in 1900.”

Furniture design is “definitely different than what most people do — and it’s a lot of fun,” said Havenaar.

Rights to the Grand Bay design were acquired by A.R.T. Furniture (no relation to Art Van), a California company.

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