Mar 6, 2008
'A growth industry': Lawmakers see Michigan as Hollywood Midwest
LANSING -- Michigan lawmakers are hoping to make Michigan the Hollywood of the Midwest with a bipartisan package of bills aimed at attracting the film industry with tax breaks and other incentives.
A celebrity lineup testified on Tuesday at a joint meeting of the House Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, and the committees also heard from a wide variety of people involved in the film industry in Michigan supporting the package of bills.
Author and Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom has had three of his books made into movies, and he said the buzz over the incentives Michigan is offering is making its way all the way to the West Coast.
“This is a growth industry,” Albom said. “That’s something we are not used to around here.”
The incentives include a 16-bill package in both the House and Senate: House Bills 5841-5855 and Senate Bills 1168-1172. The bills in both chambers are almost dentical.
Some of the incentives in the package include allowing production companies a 40 percent rebate on the Michigan Business Tax (MBT); phasing out the old film incentives (by repealing the current sales tax credit for motion picture production companies); allowing an income tax credit; creating a IRA-like investment for any investment of $25,000 or more; giving an MBT credit for infrastructure improvements; including film and media production businesses among those eligible for Michigan Economic Growth Authority tax incentives; allowing production companies to borrow money through three different programs; giving a 50 percent tax credit for job training; and transferring the state film office from the Department of History, Arts and Libraries to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
Actor/director/screenwriter Mike Binder, a Detroit native, said California is not giving film producers any incentives, and producers and filmmakers he has talked to said they are looking at filming in states that offer incentives.
“The great thing about these bills is it sends a message that Michigan is ready and willing to reinvent itself,” he said. “I have people calling me all the time saying they are ready to film here as soon as Michigan pulls the trigger.”
Binder said the City of Albuquerque, N.M., just built a multimillion-dollar sound stage, and he said there is no reason that could not happen in Michigan. He also said it’s amazing the number of actors, directors, producers and technical people with Michigan ties.
“There are small studios here, but I would like to see a major sound stage here,” he said. “You could shoot live TV shows, and you would have a 12-month presence.”
Actor, director, producer and Chelsea resident Jeff Daniels has become a spokesman for both the film and tourism industry in Michigan, and he said Michigan is ideal for filming because it offers every backdrop a director could want. He said when he shot “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” he dropped $1 million on main street Escanaba in just three months.
“I have long been an advocate for shooting in Michigan,” he said. “When I shot 'Escanaba in Da Moonlight,' I was told I needed to go to Canada. I believe in the people of Michigan. We have the talent.”
The only possible sour note heard was that the incentives are aimed more at attracting out-of-state companies and that not enough incentives for the film industry help companies already located here.
“It also has to be designed to benefit the people who are already here,” said Ed Gardiner of the Detroit Film Society.
The message at the hearing was clear, urging the lawmakers to enact the bills as soon as possible, but both chairs said they want to ensure the bills are correct before they are voted out of committee.