Panel discusses pros, cons of Michigan film incentives as part of conclusion to Michigan Film Festival

Elijah Brumback

In an almost empty conference room on the third floor of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, four distinguished film industry professionals spoke to few reporters and a handful of Michigan-based film workers.

The tone was encouraging, but the number of attendees showed a misjudgment of participation during the festivals’ third day. In content, Sunday’s panel discussions took a critical look at Michigan’s film industry future.

An afternoon panel, titled “The impact of incentives on retaining Michigan’s workforce,” featured Thad Johnson, president of Critical Moves USA, a 46-camera motion capture studio located in Detroit, and Screen Actors Guild representative Stasia Savage also of the International Alliance of Stage Hand Employees.

Talk surrounding the incentives was primarily drawn to Rick Snyder’s administration and his statements calling for the elimination of the tax credits afforded to out-of-state productions. Reimbursements have been as high as 42 percent, which in some cases totals in the millions of dollars.

Rick Hert of the West Michigan Film Office appeared on the following panel moderated by Deb Havens of the West Michigan Film and Video Alliance. Hert had recently met with George Clooney and Clooney’s business partner Grant Heslov, with whom Hert toured locations.

It was Mark Adler, though, who made a clear division between those receiving incentives and those declined by a system designed to benefit only those who meet specific requirements.

“It is important to distinguish between who asks and who also receives these credits,“ Adler said. “Many in-state, low budget productions and Michigan-based film programs often do not see the benefits of tax credit because they do not fulfill certain requirements.“

The panel also commented on the involvement of Michigan-based production crews in out-of-state features.

“It seems unfair,” Adler said about the competing interests in the Michigan Film Industry. “But this is what were working with right now.”

Big budget, high profile productions tend to want to bring their own in-house crews for lighting, set designing and other such aspects. It is not completely common for those productions to hire in-state studio and set work.

On this note, Havens turned the subject to the aspect of community support and reaction.

“Its good to have the headlines in the press about what films might be shooting here,” Havens said. “But it’s also about making folks aware of what’s beyond those headlines.”

Havens said it’s also of benefit to take into account how the community responds to the up-tic in activity throughout the neighborhoods.

Gary C. Shifflet of Media Communications Association International said the program Detroit 187, which airs on ABC, is a perfect example of a production that has encouraged the relationship between the public and film industry professionals in the Detroit area.

“When we had the cast and crew at Joe Louis during a Red Wings game recently, the crowd went nuts when the cameras put the box on the big screen between periods,” Shifflet said.

Regardless of specifics, the incentive program has proved beneficial tp the communities in which films are shot, usually at more than one location and for extended periods of time. This means hotels, restaurants and other local businesses find increased cash flow with the state also seeing returns on these taxable dollars.

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