Going HollywoodCarey Torrice
By Frank DeFrank, Macomb Daily Staff Writer
Michigan and metro Detroit as a destination for Hollywood filmmakers is not a new concept, said John Lauri, owner of Warren-based J. Lauri Filmworks.Thirty or more years ago, the auto industry in particular lured filmmakers to the area to make movies, Lauri said. But like the car buyers, Hollywood’s tastes changed and the state fell out of favor with the silver-screen types.Lauri, whose company is based at Stage 3 Productions in Warren, is among those who hope to entice a new generation of tinsel town executives to return to Michigan and maybe bring with them a few good-paying jobs.”We have a new film economy,” said Lauri, who hosted Friday night’s “Starring You,” a gala fund-raiser that doubled as a celebration of Michigan motion pictures and commercials.”We’re trying to bring that back. We’re working to bring more film production to Michigan.”New tax incentives established by the state of Michigan make it economically beneficial for movie makers to find their way to Michigan. They’ve begun to make the trip. Last winter’s release of the Clint Eastwood film “Gran Torino” is perhaps the most noteworthy project.”We’re creating more buzz so Hollywood sees what we can do,” said Lauri, a Grosse Pointe Woods native.Lauri’s gala, which served as a fund-raiser for Gleaner’s Food Bank and the Warren Fire Department, featured Gordon Michaels, one of the stars of “Unbeatable Harold,” a 2006 film produced in metro Detroit. Harold brought with him a vintage 1959 Cadillac convertible used in the film.Guests enjoyed complimentary hors d’oeuvres as they marveled over the expansive facilities of Stage 3 Productions, which opened in 2002. They danced the night away to the music of a live band and a DJ. One of the party’s highlights came when daredevil Bernie Williams of Lexington, Mich., made a precision parachute landing on the lawn in back of the studio at dusk after skydiving from a circling airplane.Meanwhile, Warren Mayor James Fouts told the audience that he expects a “major announcement” this fall concerning another film production venture coming to the state’s third most populated city.Fouts said Gina Cavaliere, the city’s Downtown Development Authority director, has been working with the undisclosed company looking to locate in Warren as the city continues to try to diversify its economy that for years has been dependent on the automotive industry.”I’m not at liberty to discuss the details for another couple of months, but this is a major development coming to the city of Warren,” Fouts said.Maria Zardis, special projects coordinator for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development, said southeastern Michigan and Macomb County have plenty to offer filmmakers.Hollywood can find gritty urban scenes, waterfronts or spacious farm country without ever leaving the county.”We have quite a bit to offer in terms of location,” Zardis said. “That really matters (to filmmakers).”And if the movie makers come, they won’t be the only beneficiaries, Zardis said.”I do think there is potential for that type of activity to create jobs,” she said.