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Local News / Entertainment

Saturday, 26 February, 2011 1:31 PM

Thousands say Michigan film incentives are working, Gov. Snyder


Michigan Actor/Playwright/Musician Jeff Daniels addresses a large crowd at the Michigan Film Town Hall at the Laurel Manor in Livonia, Mich.

by Jason Rzucidlo



LIVONIA, Mich. -- About 4,000 people filled Livonia's Laurel Manor for the Michigan Film Incentive Town Hall on Friday night. The crowd was much larger than expected with hundreds being turned away at the door due to a fire hazard. Those who were lucky to make it inside agreed that Michigan's 42 percent tax incentive for the film industry is not only working, but it is making large amounts of money for the state. Celebrities such as Michigan's own Jeff Daniels and Mitch Albom along with film director Mike Bender were among the speakers at the event.

New Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has only been on the job for seven weeks. I asked him what he would do with the tax incentives on Feb. 14, when he was announced as Crain's Newsmaker of the Year.

"What I've said from day one when I was out there is I would want to have a dialog with the film industry," he responded. "I've been talking with some of those members about how that program can change in some fashion to be more efficient and to allow some of the people in Michigan to thrive and do well at the same time being more cost efficient. What I would also say in respect to tax incentives in general is we are looking at an all new approach to them. I'd create a tax incentive in the same way as an appropriation."

Since then, Snyder has stepped in and created a budget for the state that places a cap of $25 million for the film tax incentive. That amount is too low to encourage out-of-state filmmakers to set up shop here and produce their films in Michigan.

"I came here in the 11th-hour of this thing three years ago when we had the joint hearing," Daniels said. "Republicans and Democrats with their arms around each other in Lansing. Oh, great, terrific, they like this idea. Off it went. For someone who has been shooting movies, everywhere except Hollywood since the late '80s, I got so sick and tired of working, with all due respect, Canadian crews, Canadian actors, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Louisiana, Texas, Connecticut, Pennsylvania. Why aren't those jobs here?"

The Michigan actor added: "I like Rick. He's a good man. He called me about the tax incentive. Before I sat down, he said, 'I don't want to kill it.' He gave me the impression he cared. He got it. Now, I am an actor. One of the tools of my trade is to remember things, and that’s accurate. We ended our meeting. It's just not my decision. I felt like I was talking to a politician. I'm accurate, don't tell me I'm not. It is up to you people to get on the ass of your representative. E-mail, call them or this thing is going away."

Before the incentives were put into place, college graduates were leaving Michigan at a rate of 50 percent. In addition, only $2 million was spent on film production in our state until the law was passed.

Emery King, Chairman of the Michigan Film Advisory Council and former WDIV-TV anchor said: "I know a lot of Teamsters were out of work during the economic depression. We very much wanted to offer our guidance to the governor. We welcome the opportunity to meet with the legislature to make it better. We have a very good law. Let's keep it. March 11 is our next meeting. We invite the governor and any members of the legislature. It's about creating jobs for people who live here in Michigan."

"I was used to seeing our students graduate and fly away," said Jim Burnstein, Vice Chairman of the Michigan Film Advisory Council and head of the U-M screenwriting program. "So many of them have moved to my hometown of Detroit. Gov. Snyder, two of your goals was to reverse the brain drain and revitalize Detroit. Let's work it out, don't throw it out."

In April 2008, the film tax incentives were passed by a 147-1 vote in the Michigan legislature. It was spearheaded by Republican representative Bill Huizenga (Zeeland, Mich.). Later that year, $125 million was spent in our state for the film industry. That number jumped to $224 million in 2009 and over $300 million in 2010. An important reminder is that production employees in Michigan do pay Michigan state income taxes.

"The story of these film credits is a true little engine that could," said Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press columnist and WJR Radio Host. "The single speech last Thursday, the story was halted and the book was thrown dangerously close to the fire. Well, we are here to save the story. This is not about saving Hollywood. This is about saving Michigan. Let's all be very clear, Gov. Snyder has proposed a budget with a one-size-fits-all philosophy. What matters to him is a low corporate tax rate. He wants it clean, he wants it simple."

Albom added: "He had it with Gateway in South Dakota, the state with the best tax climate in America. But, I ask you, are people flocking to South Dakota? Three of America's six poorest counties are in South Dakota. It has lagged behind even the national average for growth. Why? Because it takes more than a low tax rate to make a state industry friendly. It takes people, it takes talent, it takes environments. After Gov. Snyder stepped down from his post at Gateway, the company moved to California, the state with the second worst tax rate in America."

Exactly 6,491 full-time jobs were created in 2009-10 from the tax incentive, according to an economic report released by Ernst & Young (2011). The average salary of these employees is $53,700 for an economic output of $800 million. Film and television companies have utilized or renovated about 1 million square feet of vacant industrial warehouse space, most of which was formerly used for the automotive industry.

"I know we want to keep the debate cordial, but I am pissed off," said Philippe Martinez, CEO of Maxsar Studios. "We invested $1.6 million in Livonia. We hired 50 people all from Michigan. Governor Snyder, I think you do not care. I take it personal. He put the film business as the little lamb to be sacrificed. Fifty people that I want to hire more. Things have to happen and they have to happen fast."

Raleigh Michigan Studios is set to open a 620,000 square foot film studio in Pontiac, Mich. "We have job growth," said Anthony Wenson, Director of Studio Operations . "We are on the verge of opening a new state-of-the-art facility. Lansing don't stop the plan. We're ready to open as we will open. We have been committed. Give us the next couple of years to prove this out."

What's ahead? A film forecast breakfast is scheduled for Thursday, March 10 from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Mich. A rally is planned to support the Michigan film incentives on Tuesday, March 22 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the east lawn of the Capitol building in downtown Lansing.

"We get a lot of staff and crew come in and we do some private parties and things like that," said James Geary, Owner of Detroit's Woodbridge Pub. "That would all go away if the incentive is what it is going to be. I just know that people who contacted me for their crews, some of them were TV shows, some of them were films. We didn't get too involved with what the films were. We used to get once a week a location scout come to my restaurant looking for locations to film. Since the announcement, I have seen zero."

Set Decorator Sandhya Huchingson is already unemployed because there are no films being shot in Michigan right now. "If they capped it at $25 million, honestly that's a budget of one large film and it really doesn't make sense of have any kind of incentive," she said. "It's done so much for our city and it would be a shame to take it away. I spent the last two years honing in on this business, recreating my life as the economy in Detroit fell away from us. I'm a business owner of nine years and I lost my shop. If this goes away, I'm going to have to move. You know?"

If the film incentive remains intact, it could bring in additional money from tourism. Remember, the tourism industry in southern California was created by Hollywood's film and television industry. Who wouldn't like to see tour buses riding around metro Detroit?

Related Story: Gov. Snyder offers a preview of upcoming cuts to Michigan's state budget





Attendees were mingling before the start of the town hall.



Some of the speakers included Mitch Albom, Emery King and Jeff Daniels.



Ken Droz is the former communications director for the Michigan Film Office. Now, he runs his own consulting company.



Janet Lockwood (right) is the director of the Michigan Film Office.



Mitch Albom is a Detroit Free Press columnist and WJR Radio Host.


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