MICHIGAN PLANS TO BE THE NEW HOLLYWOOD
MICHIGAN WISHES FOR A STAR – THE FILM INDUSTRY
L-r) Director CLINT EASTWOOD, camera operator STEVE CAMPANELLI, 1st Assistant Camera BILL COE, and actor BEE VANG on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama Gran Torino. The film stars Clint Eastwood and is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures becoming the first feature under Michigan’s new incentives to open in theatres. Photo by Anthony Michael Rivetti
Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) sang “when you wish upon a star all your dreams come true.” Economically hurting Michigan is hoping to take that Hollywood star wish to the bank. Clint Eastwood proclaimed that Michigan would become the new Hollywood. From his lips to…Michigan now offers the most lucrative financial incentives for productions to film in their state. The new law gives money back to any film production company “ from Michigan or elsewhere “ that spends between $200,000 and $10 million in Michigan. Since last spring, when Michigan lawmakers adopted tax incentives that reimburse film companies for up to 42 percent of their expenses if they shoot in Michigan, the state has enjoyed a surge in interest from Hollywood. While the film industry spent $3 million in Michigan in all of 2007, in the last eight months of 2008 production companies spent $167 million. Already 42 major motion pictures are scheduled to be filmed in Michigan in 2009.
Center for Film Studies officials – Chief Operating Officer Jack B. Grushko, Director of Education Kim Haveraneck and Executive Director Mort Meisner.
Mort Meisner, president of the Huntington Woods based Center for Film Studies, spoke with Broadway To Vegas about the financial incentives and subsequent need for qualified people to fill the growing number of employment opportunities. Using money as the carrot to get productions filming in Michigan isn’t something new. In 2007 Michigan tried enticing moviemakers to the state by giving a rebate of up to 20 percent to production companies that shoot movies, TV shows and commercials in the state. That bling was tarnished when other states – such as Louisiana, New Mexico and Connecticut – upped the ante. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm immediately set about to offer a better tax rebate. Will film incentives turn into a bidding war? “Is somebody else going to do 50 percent? You can’t rule it out, but studios are starting to be built here, so the (entertainment) industry is here to stay,” answered Detroit born Meisner who has spent over 30 years in the industry, running television stations in Chicago and St. Louis. Through his agency Mort Meisner Associates he has acted as agent to over 100 on-air television news people from various parts of the country. With enough money thrown back at them, production companies can bite into the lure of being able to bring a project in under budget. The key is for the state to be able to provide competent employees. “The biggest problem is that there are a lot of talented people here, but none of them are trained,” Meisner replied. “That’s Hollywood’s big gripe. That’s why we’re training them.” Like any industry the film business has its own in-house vocabulary and skill requirements. Do Michigan residents think the word grip means the strength of a handshake?”Yes, that grip is a handshake or that a gaffer is someone who makes a mistake,” he said referring respectively to a grip,who is part of a union crew responsible for moving lights, dolly tracks, cranes and scenery. A gaffer is an electrician. Since announcing that the first entertainment industry classes would begin March 2, his Center for Film Studies has been flooded with hundreds of applications. “We’re the only stand alone school and we think that makes a big difference,” he reasoned. Classroom work will be held in Troy, while studio training will take place in Farmington Hills, Ferndale, Warren, as well as, in Troy. Subject matter includes lighting, set building and design, film makeup and screenwriting, as well as training for positions such as grip and production assistant. The school is state-certified. Tuition ranges from $750 to $1650, depending on the course desired. “We screen the applicants. You want to make sure they are going to make a good appearance. You want to make sure they have their (mental) faculties. At least a high school diploma or a GED.” The school does not do a criminal background check. “They would be up to the employers,” he explained. Many of the entertainment trades require certification. “Our graduates will get certificates,” he quickly answered. The Center for Film Studies has entered into a training alliance with the Michigan Council of Carpenters — AFLCIO. Are the unemployed, who may be making a transition from a depression induced job lay-off to having show business stars in their eyes, thinking that the entertainment industry is an answer to all their financial problems? Few within the entertainment world totally earn a living in that capacity. Are people who may have only worked within the 9-to-5 world being misled? “We let people know that this is an industry where there is no regular schedule,” he stressed. As to the industry being a great extra income but few actually earn a living he responded; “You tell them that and whether or not they understand that, I don’t know.”
Carey Torrice on the movie set of Bone Deep starring Matt Dillon. Torrice was actively lobbing movie producers to film in Macomb County.
Carey Torrice is a Macomb County Commissioner who is a model and actress – a card carrying member of SAG. “I don’t believe the people of Michigan are being misled into thinking these are 9-to-5 jobs. I have been very clear on the job-to-job basis in which this industry works,” she emphatically told Broadway to Vegas. One of the leaders attempting to put Michigan on the production shoot short list, she hopes that her connections in the entertainment industry can help make her Macomb County a destination for production studios. Torrice is coy about details. “I have been in direct contact with many directors and producers, but many things are under wraps until we get the green light.” Recently, Torrice worked with actor-director Clint Eastwood on one of the most prominent 2008 films made in Michigan – Gran Torino – which stars Eastwood and is currently in theaters.”The Michigan Legislature enacted legislation that provides a tax credit for production companies if they film in the state of Michigan. There are certain criteria that must be met, some of which include using Michigan talent and vendors during production. This leaves Michigan as one of the highest tax credit states in the country. Already many movies are slated to be filmed here, with estimated spending budgets of almost $200 million.” continued the Clinton Township Democrat. “What does that mean for us? For starters, it means economic growth. Many local actors are being auditioned and hired. These actors live, work and spend money in our area. Many local companies in the construction, security, catering, equipment or rental categories are employed to support production. This, in turn, helps to stimulate our local economy. I know firsthand. I was paid to work on this production,” she said referring to Gran Torino. “I believe that Michigan will be a hot spot for film production. I also believe that Macomb County should entice producers to film in our area. We have many different things to offer and these things must be promoted to producers. All local heads of government should jump at this opportunity. Even during these tough economic times, there is hope. If our local, county and state officials push hard enough and entice these producers to come to Michigan, it will benefit all of our residents.” When Clint Eastwood kept all of his people at the Somerset Inn in Troy, they had to hire three extra staff. A banquet scene in Gran Torino had food catered by Bangkok 96, a restaurant in Dearborn owned by Genevieve Vang.
George Clooney and Hilary Swank, two of Hollywood’s biggest box office draws, are expected to film movies in the Detroit area in the next few weeks. The producers of Betty Anne Waters, starring two-time Oscar winner Swank, helmed by Tony Goldwyn, received approval by Livingston County Commissioners on February 2, allowing them to use the historic Howell courthouse for filming – despite concerns raised by Commissioner Donald Parker about compensation. Parker said some of his clients received payments for their cooperation in the movie High School, which completing filming in December. County Administrator Bob Block said they did request a $1,000 security deposit but pointed out that the company only wanted to use the outside of the building and only for one day. In the end, the board voted against charging the Ann Arbor-based Innocence Productions. Betty Anne Waters, is based on a true story that revolves around a working mother who puts herself through law school in an effort to represent her brother, who has been wrongfully convicted of murder. The filming will take place the morning of March 4th and the City of Howell is working with the production company on minor road closures. Clooney is set to star in the Paramount comedy Up in the Air by Walter Kirn, directed by Jason Reitman, part of which is set to be filmed at the Berry and McNamara terminals at Detroit Metro Airport, possibly for a week in late February. The movie also stars Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. The studio will have to pay the airport to film there – fees for a production involving 16 or more people start at $4,400 for four hours and $600 for each additional hour. Clooney is expected to star as a professional who specializes in career transition counseling – a euphemism for firing people – who is trying to rack up 1 million frequent flier miles in attempting to land a mysterious job. Just because a state is a shooting scene site, doesn’t mean that’s where the entire film will lens. While the bargaining ability of a film locator is crucial, other variables can dictate location – such as the plotline. Up in the Air moves to Missouri to begin filming in St. Louis on March 3 and continues there through the end of April, employing over 2,000 extras.
Poster boy for Michigan Jeff Daniels has spent decades touting all that is Michigan. He founded the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Michigan (1 hour from Detroit, 2 hours from Grand Rapids, 15 minutes from Ann Arbor) ( See Broadway To Vegas column of October 6, 2002 ) and recently starred in the Tommy Tune musical Turn of the Century, which closed Nov 2 at the Goodman in Chicago. Daniels, filmmaker Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger starring Joan Allen and Kevin Costner), and best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, Mitch Albom, were instrumental in explaining the economics of movie making to Lansing lawmakers. “I can™t tell you how many movies I™ve done in Vancouver and Winnipeg and Toronto since the late ™80s, simply because it was cheaper,” campaigned Daniels. “They used Canadian crews and a lot of Canadian actors and, you know, I™ve gotta go where the work is. They were not gonna shoot The Crossing for A&E about George Washington in Virginia on locations that would mirror where Washington was. We went to Toronto to shoot it.””I shot the movie Winn-Dixie in Louisiana. Why? Because they had a rebate. They had a tax incentive that helped their budget simply by going to Louisiana and hiring Louisiana crews and day players – actors from New Orleans were in the movie. It created so many jobs, simply because the state of Louisiana ¦ provided an opportunity for the producers and studio to bring their movie there and save some money. That™s all they care about.”