More than 200 actors, casting agents and film crew workers attended a two-hour session Tuesday evening to discuss reviving Michigan's once burgeoning film industry.
State Sen. Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) told the crowd that he hopes a bill he introduced in Lansing will reinvigorate state's film industry. The bill, which is scheduled to go into committee next week, would address the need for Michigan to provide filmmakers with enough incentives to bring their film productions to the state.
That was music to the ears of many in attendance.
“I haven’t had an audition in months,” said actor Vincent Angelini, of Auburn Hills. “I want to hear what’s new.”
Angelini’s story is not unlike many of those who began to find plenty of work either on camera or off since 2008, when former Gov. Jennifer Granholm instituted a financial incentive package that drew film crews from Hollywood in droves to film their projects in Michigan.
Many of the high-end jobs were shipped in from California, and many of the jobs were awarded to local people and businesses for specialties such as catering, costuming, casting, accounting, camera work, construction and welding — plus acting.
Richardville hopes to provide current Gov. Rick Snyder with an opportunity to sign into law a newly devised method of awarding film incentives that will once again place Michigan on par with some of the more financially attractive states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“We talked with people in Hollywood and we think we’re in pretty good shape with what we have put together,” Richardville told the crowd. “I am confident we’ll have something on the governor’s desk by Christmas.”
The new bill explores an allocation method based on the demand or expected demand from filmmakers. Currently, when a filmmaker submits a request to film in Michigan they must specify their anticipated incentive. Because Michigan’s film incentive program has been in flux and relatively undefined, there has been a halt to new applications.
Richardville pointed to the Pure Michigan campaign, launched to attract businesses and people to Michigan, as a nice campaign but whose objectives could be achieved through a successful film industry.
“There is a kind of advertisement you get when you are filming,” he said. “There is an excitement that is just as impactful as sending an ad around the country.”
It has been eight months since Michigan’s film incentive structure was reduced, which sent immediate ripples throughout the film industry that Michigan may not be as film-friendly as before. Those who make their living working with the industry have seen a drastic drop in jobs.
Rose Gilpin, of Grosse Pointe Farms, owns Real Style, an extras casting company based in Clawson. She and her partner, Kathy Remski, helped to find work for 30,000 extras when the film industry was riding its wave.
“Last year at this time we were working on eight movies and Detroit 1-8-7,” Gilpin said. “We have no movies now.
“But it’s not just the casting and the actors. It’s the lumber needed to build the sets, the dry cleaning that is needed for all those costumes, every day. It’s about all of the businesses that are needed to support the industry here. Michigan needed these jobs, and especially Detroit. There have been big movies that moved out right away after Gov. Snyder changed things. He could have brought things down a little but kept us competitive. Instead, he cut the legs off the industry here.”
The mega superhero movie The Avengers was one of those projects. With an all-star cast, months of shooting and hundreds of tangential job opportunities, The Avengers relocated to Cleveland to take advantage of the incentives offered by Ohio.
Also speaking at the update meeting was screenwriter and University of Michigan Screenwriting Coordinator Jim Burnstein, who discussed the importance of building a creative class — a generation or culture of talented individuals who populate an area. He saw this happening in Metro Detroit before the bulk of the incentives were revoked.
Lobbyist Jim Ryan urged those who want to see a return of film incentives to contact their local legislatures to share why they want it.
Vans Stevenson, the senior vice president, state legislative affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America, also underscored the importance of providing the film industry with clear and definitive incentives so it doesn't balk at Michigan.
All of this, Richardville said, is addressed in the new bill. He also agreed with Burnstein that unless Michigan offers at least $100 million in incentives, filmmakers will continue to go elsewhere.
"I think he’s going to be a great governor," Richardville said of Snyder. "But in many ways he’s a governor-in-training. I think he’s more excited about this industry than he was at first.
“This bill itself does not spend a dime. I expect it will be signed before the end of the calendar year."