Movies to boost economy


Associated Press Writer

LANSING, Mich. (AP) A year ago, Michigan tried luring moviemakers to the state by giving them hefty tax rebates.

But it lost its competitive edge when other states started offering even better deals.

Now, state lawmakers and Gov. Jennifer Granholm are looking at increasing the size of the rebates and adding other incentives to leapfrog Michigan ahead of states such as Louisiana, New Mexico and Connecticut.

Michigan offers a tax rebate of up to 20 percent to production companies that shoot movies, TV shows and commercials in the state. But that no longer has the bling it once did, film industry insiders say.

“Twenty percent isn’t going to do it. You really need to have a headline,” says Mike Binder, a Detroit native who wrote and directed “The Upside of Anger,” a 2005 film starring Joan Allen and Kevin Costner. 

Binder visited Lansing recently to lobby lawmakers for a 40 percent rebate, which would be the country’s highest.

“The fact is, in Hollywood, if you’re not at the front, you might as well not even be in it at all,” says Mitch Albom, a Detroit newspaper columnist whose books such as “Tuesdays With Morrie” have been adapted into TV movies.

With its array of visual images — urban landscapes, the Great Lakes, sandy shorelines, northern forests, vineyards — Michigan could be a film studio’s dream. Eminem shot his movie, “8 Mile,” along the boulevard separating Detroit and the suburbs. “Road to Perdition” featured scenes shot in the Grand Rapids area.

But in the end, decisions on where to shoot are about the bottom line, with studios asking what tax payoffs they will get in return.

When legislators passed the initial tax rebates on the last day of session in December 2006, Michigan’s incentives briefly ranked among the top five in the United States.

Other states leapfrogged Michigan in a matter of months, and it fell back to having the 15th- or 16th-best incentives for creating movies.

Lawmakers and Granholm agree Michigan must offer a new round of incentives if it wants to tap into more of the $60 billion film industry, which is not exclusive to Los Angeles. 

Granholm visited with industry officials during a November trip to California. Last week, she talked about passing the most robust incentives in the nation during her State of the State speech.

Along with bigger tax rebates, Michigan lawmakers are considering extra enticements for production companies that hire Michigan-based workers instead of flying in crew from outside the state. They also may dole out loans to movie projects and explore ways to train workers for movie jobs.

The time to get moving is short. Once the Hollywood writers’ strike ends, there will be a backlog of potential projects that have been waiting for the past three months to get going.

Many see the entertainment industry as another way to diversify a Michigan economy hurt by the reliance on the downsizing auto industry. Although Granholm is heavily promoting Michigan’s move into alternative energy, filmmaking could offer a far quicker boost.

“This is an industry that can come in immediately. Wind power and alternative energy require an incredible investment in time and capital,” says Scott Brooks, a partner with A-G Capital, an investment holding company in Holland. A-G is partially financing three movies set to be made in Michigan by another Holland company, TicTock Studios.

“They are waiting on the sidelines to come to Michigan. It is the buzz,” Brooks says.

Moviemaking doesn’t just infuse the local economy with increased hotel bookings and potential new jobs if local crew are hired. It also can attract tourists. 

Iowa still is reaping the benefits of 1989’s “Field of Dreams” and 1995’s “Bridges of Madison County.” “Sideways” put Southern California’s wine country on the map.

But to get another “8 Mile” filmed in Michigan, the state will have to fend off competitors. 

Ten states improved their incentives or offered new ones last year alone, says Angela Miele, vice president of tax policy for the Motion Picture Association of America. “Every state is trying to up the ante.”